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With Sales Slowing, Fitbit Acquires Promising Health Coaching Startup


Evolution might be important for Fitbit as the market for wearable devices becomes more complicated.

Wearables-maker Fitibit announced today that it is buying Boston-area startup Twine Health, a patient engagement and chronic condition management coaching platform.

Twine began in 2013, launched out of research done in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. It uses artificial intelligence-driven insights and patient-physician connections to encourage behavioral change and ownership of outcomes. Once aimed primarily at health systems, the company reportedly shifted towards marketing its software to payers and employers.

For Fitbit, the deal represents a move towards further legitimacy in the healthcare industry. Its official statement says that the deal “further extends its reach into healthcare and lays the foundation to expand its offerings to health plans, health systems and self-insured employers.” Many large employers already employ the company’s devices as part of staff health initiatives, and UnitedHealthcare offers its customers Fitbits—and financial incentives to use them—as part of its Motion program.

Twine’s John Moore, PhD, will take over as a Fitbit’s Medical Director. One of the company’s cofounders, he said it was launched because “people only retain about 5% of information you provide them in the doctor’s office,” according to its website. The company’s coaching technology has been clinically tested in patients with hypertension at Massachusetts General Hospital and with diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center, with promising results.

“We built Twine Health with the goal of putting people back at the center of their care, helping them take ownership of their health actions and outcomes with the continuous support of both clinicians and loved ones,” Moore said in a statement. “That potential becomes even more compelling when combined with Fitbit, whose brand and ability to engage and motivate a diverse range of consumers is incredibly powerful.”

“Twine Health has delivered powerful results for patients managing conditions like diabetes and hypertension — two key focus areas for Fitbit,” Fitbit CEO and cofounder James Park said. “Together, we can help healthcare providers better support patients beyond the walls of the clinical environment, which can lead to better health outcomes and ultimately, lower medical costs.” According to the statement, his company believes the new arrangement will create "the opportunity to extend the benefits of the Twine platform to its more than 25 million users and expand into new condition areas."

Evolution might be important for Fitbit as the market for wearable devices becomes more complicated. Early leader Jawbone already left the playing field unceremoniously, and Fitbit has seen its share of the global market shrink from well over a third in 2014 to less than 15% last year.

The rise of the smartwatch has given many consumers the same basic health metric capabilities that fitness trackers have long offered while adding full smartphone (and thus, internet) integration. Fitbit responded with the launch of its Ionic line of smartwatches, and has been buying up other health and software companies—like FitStar in 2015, Coin and Pebble in 2016, and Vector in 2017.

Twine Health will become part of Fitbit's Health Solutions group under the new arrangement, financial details of which have not been released. Between its founding in 2014 and its acquisition today, the startup had raised roughly $10 million in outside funding.

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