Google announced last week that they’ve developed a clinical grade health tracking wristband for use in medical research and clinical trials. In other words, the Google health wristband won’t show up on Amazon or in Walgreens. And that’s one of the most interesting things about it.
News of the device has been widely reported, generally with enthusiasm. Details on the device, developed out of the Google X group, are still scant however and it seems to be in relatively early phases of validation. According to Bloomberg, the device will measure heart rate, heart rhythm and skin temperature. It will also capture environmental information like light exposure and noise levels.
Clinical trials testing the device’s accuracy are set to begin this year with as-yet unnamed academic partners. I imagine, though, that partners in Google’s Baseline project like Duke and Stanford will play prominent roles.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the device and Google’s plans here is their intent to (1) do validation studies and (2) seek regulatory approval from the FDA as well as European regulators. While the field of health tracking wearables has taken off in recent years, we’ve generally been left to speculate on the accuracy of devices like those from Fitbit based on small studies. Most skirt FDA oversight by marketing their devices as intended for general wellness rather than for the management of specific health conditions.
Google appears to be taking a completely different approach here. They are developing a multi-functional wearable that will not only capture all kinds of health data but will also have evidence supporting it’s accuracy. And with Google’s seemingly endless access to information, it would be interesting to see the information captured through this device combined with other data streams. For example, arrhythmia or pulse oximetry data captured by the device could be correlated to air quality or allergen information.
This approach contrasts and in some ways complements Apple’s approach to health. Through HealthKit, Apple created a common language for how health data captured by wearables is recorded by their connected apps and makes it shareable. And through ResearchKit, clinicians can more readily deploy clinical studies using these devices. However, when it came to Apple’s own wearable – the Apple Watch – the health sensors don’t have validation data and avoided regulatory oversight by sticking with “general wellness” as their intended use. Clinical research will rely more heavily on compatible validated sensors like iPhone connected blood pressure monitors.
It will be interesting to see what sensors Google ultimately packs in here. If their glucose-tracking contact lens is any indication, we can expect some creative & novel additions to this device.
Image: Google via Bloomberg