Device users come in all shapes and sizes
Employer wellness programs are growing in the U.S., bundled with consumer-directed plans and health savings accounts. A wellness company’s work with employee groups is demonstrating that workers who adopt mobile health technologies — especially “wearables” coupled with smartphone apps — helps change behavior and drive health outcomes.

Results of one such program are summarized in Wearables at Work, a technical brief from Vitality, a joint venture of Humana and Discovery Ltd., published April 23, 2014.

Vitality has been working in workplace wellness since 2005, first using pedometers to track workers’ workouts. In 2008, Vitality adopted the Polar heart rate monitor for employee wellness, and today Vitality integrates at least 100 mobile health devices into its worker health programs. Pedometers and activity trackers are, by far, the most-used mobile health device among the employees enrolled in Vitality’s programs. The Fitbit is among the most popular devices among the Vitality employee base.

Vitality polled people involved in its wellness programs, and learned that:

  • Slightly more women than men use a pedometer, tracker or smartphone device, but more men use heart rate monitors
  • All devices are used more widely by people who are overweight or obese
  • People across all age groups use digital health devices, graphed in the first chart.

Vitality’s program also incorporates behavioral economics to “nudge” employee participants to engage in health activities, such as tracking steps. The company has learned that points earned for rewards that can be redeemed in the “Vitality Mall” have been an effective component in motivating people to stick to their programs and achieve individual health goals. Vitality’s data for 2013 show that among people active in fitness activities, the high-risk group of 27% of the population moved fell to 21% of the population. The proportion of folks who were not active in fitness activities that were high-risk comprised 38% of the population, which reduced to 33% of the population.

Based on this experience, Vitality concludes that the benefits of wearables can be useful across all employees, not just young and healthy people. Coupled with well-designed incentives, wellness programs using wearable health devices can drive population health, Vitality believes.

NudgeNudgeHealth Populi’s Hot Points:  This report bolsters a positive message for both employer wellness programs and for wearables technologies targeting health. What underlies the ROI is the health benefit design incorporating behavioral economics — the “nudge.”

Technology in and of itself — those shiny new things multiplying like rabbits at the annual Consumer Electronics Show — get dis-banded within months of adoption when they purchased as, well, technology. Only when these devices become part of a lifestyle — leveraging personal goals, passion, rewards, and social behaviors — will they become beloved necessary tools that get integrated into daily life-flow.

At the same time, the employer’s health benefit must look to artful design that incorporates social and behavioral economics – carrots and, in some instances where useful, sticks. The Family Kahn’s new health plan design for plan year 2014-2015 incorporates a carrot/stick approach for smoking. In our new plan design, we are incentivized to get our blood tested which includes a screen for smoking. If we are detected as smokers, about $200 will be added to our every-other-week plan premium deducted from our paycheck.

This adds up to serious money that (tries to) motivate the smoker to quit.

More biometrics and tools are getting added into the plan, for which we will pay more money this year (even as health-abiding citizens).

Wearable tech is becoming part of the new wellness at work. But it’s not tech-for-tech’s sake for the average person living in the mass middle of America. Artfully leveraging The Nudge will make a difference in wellness programs moving the needle on worker and family health.