Garmin Signs on with Health Data Platform to Boost Scientific Studies

Jared Kaltwasser
NOVEMBER 20, 2018
garmin fitabase,garmin wearables,wearable technology,wearables data
Garmin’s wearables could provide invaluable data to researchers. Image has been altered. Courtesy of Zeyus Media, Flickr.

One of the world’s top wearables companies is partnering with a data management platform to improve the data available to health researchers.

Garmin International says it’s partnering with Fitabase, a data management firm, to allow researchers to access health data from Garmin wearables through the Fitabase platform. The deal marks a significant opportunity for scientists to access automatically generated data from study participants, decreasing their reliance on self-reported information.

>> LISTEN: Wearables Are Saving Human Lives. Can They Save Hospitals Too?

Travis Johnson, global product lead for Garmin Health, said Garmin already makes data available to researchers through its own application programming interface. However, the Fitabase collaboration expands that opportunity by leveraging Fitabase’s foothold in the scientific community.

“Fitabase has an established reputation as a trusted partner in the academic and scientific communities with a platform designed specifically for the unique needs of researchers,” he told Healthcare Analytics News™. “Working with Fitabase allows these researchers to use Garmin wearables and the data they produce inside a platform with which they’re already familiar.”

Although Garmin first became a household name with its GPS products, the company has been increasing its product line to include smartwatches, fitness trackers and other wearable devices. Fitabase’s platform, meanwhile, has been used in more than 500 scientific studies, including at some of the top academic medical centers in the world.

Signe de Place Knudsen, a Ph.D. fellow in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Copenhagen University, said the collaboration is exciting because it pairs the Fitabase platform with products built around the consumer and optimized for usability.

“Using friendly consumer devices paired with powerful research tools will make a significant impact on supporting the needs of our research,” Knudsen said in a press release.

A 2017 analysis of the use of wearables found that they can be important tools to ensure data accuracy. The paper identified a handful of key barriers to success, including connectivity and battery life. But the consumer wearables sector has made great progress in tackling those issues.

Knudsen’s research is centered on how physical activity during pregnancy can affect maternal and infant health. Activity data points can easily be tracked using Garmin wearables, which Johnson said is a better source of information than asking pregnant mothers to list their daily activities.

“Subjective, self-reported data is ill-suited for many research purposes because it relies on the unique perspective of the participant and is difficult to normalize for comparison,” he said.

On one hand, hard data like step counts can be difficult to track without the help of a wearable. But Johnson said self-reports are even more problematic when it comes to less concrete questions.

“More abstract concepts like ‘Were you more active today?’ can mean very different things between two people,” he said. “Metrics like sleep or stress are even more difficult, as answers to questions like ‘Did you sleep well last night?’ or ‘Was today stressful?’ are naturally influenced by personality and emotions.”

Wearables also enable monitoring of metrics like heart rate on a continuous basis, something that would otherwise be nearly impossible even without human error.

“Wearables are ideal for providing an objective way to measure otherwise abstract concepts and form a baseline for comparison that can be trusted,” he said.

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