If you didn't believe before that the wearable activity tracker company Fitbit was really invested in diabetes, believe it now.

Recent headlines indicate that the San Francisco company is going all in for diabetes:

This is exciting because Fitbit is forging a path to give health insurers strong incentives to provide patients with the latest technology and tie their success with those tools to cost savings.

Most of their current efforts are aimed at type 2 diabetes -- clearly the bigger market -- but the reason this is exciting for all PWDs is that Fitbit is forging a path for health insurance providers to have strong incentives to provide patients with the latest technology (CGM and data sharing) and tie success with those tools to cost savings. Thumbs up!

"Fitbit (also) sees potential in other chronic disease categories that include: heart health, sleep disorders and mental health," a spokeswoman told us. This dovetails with what the Fitbit CEO said during the recent JP Morgan Healthcare conference, about moving from tracking steps to helping people live healthier.

Here's a closer look at what Fitbit has on tap in the diabetes arena, and how they're tying in payer incentives to promote overall health:

 

UnitedHealthcare Collaboration

UHC has teamed up with both Dexcom and Fitbit on a pilot program geared toward Medicare Advantage plan participants (those getting extra insurance aside from their regular Medicare coverage). By design, those seniors taking part in this pilot program have T2D and don't use insulin.

How it works is, participants get a Dexcom CGM (the G5 model for now, until G6 is FDA approved), and a Fitbit motion tracker -- either the Fitbit Charge 2 or new Fitbit Ionic Watch -- that integrate to share data. They also receive personalized diabetes coaching provided through UHC, to get more insights about that diabetes and health data along with info about medications being used, food and exercise patterns, sleep and heart rate.

“Continuous glucose monitoring can be a game-changer for people enrolled in our Medicare Advantage plans, as the data can be translated into personalized information that can be acted upon in real-time,” UHC's Brian Thompson, Medicare and retirement unit CEO, said in a statement.

The partners will be working to tie this to insurance claims data, Dexcom's VP of corporate development, Matt Dolan, tells us. They'll track how the Dexcom-Fitbit use influences health and then hopefully use the positive outcomes data -- like less medication needed or better "adherence" -- to influence insurance claims and costs.

The program is part of UHC's bigger focus on using digital health tech to analyze and influence claims and improve health. In January 2017, they created a program called UnitedHealthcare Motion that it offers members a Fitbit Charge 2 wearable through an employer-sponsored initiative.

Participants will get up to $1,500 in annual insurance savings for achieving daily walking goals; to date, those participating have collectively walked 130 billion steps and earned more than $19 million.

While Dolan says this is part of the UHC pilot program currently involving only Medicare Advantage folk, if successful, it's likely we'll see a broader push for this type of CGM-fueled offering by other insurers over time.

In fact, other payers are already creating similar alliances with medtech players, such as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans including Anthem that have partnered with Google-Sanofi-backed venture Onduo to monitor glucose levels in PWDs, using a yet-to-be-unveiled wearable device. A pilot is beginning this year, according to public statements from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

 

Fitbit Ionic + Diabetes Data

Of course, many of us are anxiously awaiting more detail on the launch plans for the Fitbit Ionic that will actually display Dexcom CGM data after that announcement in September 2017. After Fitbit bought Pebble and announced it would be discontinuing that watch in favor of its own design, the #WeAreNotWaiting community has been anticipating the Ionic with bated breath.

We still haven't heard a timeline for that, aside from "as early as possible in 2018," and so far there are no publicly-available photos of the Ionic showing CGM data (we asked both Fitbit and Dexcom).

We're also not sure how that will factor in with Fitbit's partnership with One Drop that began in November, allowing for Fitbit activity data to be weaved into the One Drop mobile app and reports -- which also mentioned a specific offer for users of Fitbit devices, including the Ionic watch. Clearly, all of this data integration is leading us to a new place with health insurance claims and approvals!

 

New Minimally-Invasive CGM?

Another big interesting step on the part of Fitbit in mHealth is their recent investment of $6 million (!) into Sano Intelligence, developing what it describes as a "minimally invasive" CGM device.

This Silicon Valley health startup known as Sano Intelligence (not to be confused with Sano Tech) has apparently been around since 2011, making appearances at medtech conferences periodically, but remains mostly unknown. Sano's developing a biometric sensor bult into a low-profile patch that monitors glucose through interstitial fluid, but via "minimally invasive microstructures that are placed on the body."

Coverage on  Gizmodo last year noted the sensor "looks like a nicotine patch with a circular piece of metal in the center, containing the Bluetooth receiver and battery. It kind of looks and feels like sandpaper or velcro when you put it on the skin.”

Interestingly, Sano does not plan to seek FDA approval, but rather plans to launch this as an over-the-counter product for people without diabetes.

Source: Gizmodo (January 2017)

Yeah, we'll see... but Fitbit for one is clearly sold on this potential non-invasive CGM given it's multi-million dollar boost.

As noted, what's really meaningful about the Fitbit-UHC-Dexcom trio is connecting use of the latest digital health tools to insurance coverage and financial incentives. Apple, Google and Samsung are a part of this puzzle too, of course, and more consumer-facing companies are talking with payers and even regulators about future investments in the medtech arena.

For us patients, this is all good news -- to help underscore our health needs and eventually ease our pocketbooks.

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.