Is Wearable Technology the Future of Population Health?
As the healthcare industry continues to place a heavy emphasis on value-based care, employers are searching for solutions to elevate quality without significantly increasing costs. With 25 percent of employers’ healthcare costs tied to unhealthy lifestyle choices or conditions – such as obesity, stress, and smoking – organizations are increasingly turning to technology-driven wellness programs to encourage lifestyle changes that lead to better overall health.
Health wearables such as smart watches, fitness trackers, and medical devices provide a wealth of insight into how people live their lives beyond the hospital or doctor’s office. Organizations can make use of this data to incentivize employees to make healthier choices. While wearables have mostly been aimed at those who are already healthy and fit, The Pew Research Center reports that 70% of U.S adults living with at least one chronic condition track a health indicator. Furthermore, they also report that merely tracking symptoms has a positive influence on behavior, effectively serving as a low-cost clinical intervention. A large insurer has even begun subsidizing wearable devices to promote wellness and encourage medication adherence among its large customer base.
While there’s no one-size-fits all solution to improving the health of a population, wearables have the unique ability to provide real-time information on things like activity, heart rate and sleep, that can provide key linkage between patient, provider and payer. While this data is very new to the healthcare industry as a whole, and comes in fairly unstructured formats, it has the potential to close gaps in the last mile of care – tying clinical results to actual lifestyle habits.
Further, with wearable technology connected to digital health platforms, employers can learn about each employee’s habits to better align health and wellness efforts with employee needs. Here are some of the top ways wearables can help activate and improve the health of your population:
- Reduce costs associated with chronic conditions. Today, an estimated 150 million Americans are living with at least one chronic health condition. As the leading cause of death worldwide, many chronic conditions can be prevented and better managed – significantly reducing related symptoms, further progression and associated treatment costs. With the help of wearable technology, risk factors for chronic conditions can be identified, triggering programs to encourage lifestyle changes to avoid disease onset or progression.
- Encourage healthy choices. Organizations can promote health and fitness in many ways, from providing healthy food options to providing group fitness walks or informal volleyball or softball tournaments. Examining progress towards winning challenges and/or earning incentives and rewards can be fun. Wearables remove the time and effort barriers that have traditionally reduced involvement; what could be easier than automatic tracking and syncing to your health platform?
- Provide Insight to employee needs. Employers can aggregate the data provided by wearables to learn about what their employees need. This information can be used to develop new programs designed to address these needs. And the data may surprise you. Sleep may be a more pervasive health issue than exercise or food choices for your employees. The data also allows for personalized content, relevant for each employee. Relevant content = more engaged and more engaged = healthier.
Steps to Ensure Success
There is real potential for wearable technology to help organizations gain greater visibility into their members and leverage insights to impact overall health. Steps to ensure success:
- Make it easy for employees to sync their devices
- Learn from the data
- Provide personalized relevant content
At Health Dialog, we have years of experience turning data into actionable insight. Learn how we can help you analyze employee lifestyles, identify early warning signs, and transform behaviors to generate long-term positive outcomes and cost savings. Contact us today!