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— Jack Rose, Vice President of Sales, BioIQ —

Reflections on the Hottest Trends at the EBN Conference, Part 1 —

Wearable devices like the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP—not to mention an increasing number of health apps for smart watches such as the Apple Watch—have become a key part of today’s exercise routines. These devices use sensors to track your steps, heart rate, and other internal and external functions. Are they an important component of today’s wellness programs? The short answer is yes. According to a recent article in Computerworld, approximately half of fitness band sales in the U.S. are to companies that pass the devices along to employees for fitness-related activities.[1]

As Malay Gandhi and Teresa Wang point out on rockhealth.com, there are an overwhelming number of trending wearables, but not all of them are capable of measuring or telling us something about our health. Similarly, there are plenty of biosensors that measure physiological inputs but do not have a wearable form factor. “Excitement shouldn’t be mistaken for impact,” they note, saying that wearables will need to evolve into more functional and accurate devices in order to gain adoption in the industry. “A long tail of evolved biosensing wearables, enabled through platforms, has the potential to improve health outcomes and lower costs. Only time will tell if the reality matches the promise—we’re optimistic.”[2]

Let’s look at the pros and cons of using wearables within your wellness program.

Yes, they help employees get up and move. Most of us need to make an effort to overcome our sedentary lifestyles and work habits. A wearable tracks your steps. As part of a wellness program, it can allow wellness participants to earn points for completing various health-focused challenges.

Yes, they measure physical activity. As most wellness administrators know, people are more likely to set goals and hold each other accountable when there is a way to compare their respective activities. Setting goals such as a desire to walk 10,000 steps per day, then monitoring your progress and comparing your results with co-workers, is a great way to structure fitness activities.

However, there are some caveats to consider.

No, it’s not clinically accurate information. I had an engaging conversation with a physician at the recent Employee Benefit News conference. He maintained that while tracking your movements and heart rate is useful, it’s not necessarily accurate or clinically verifiable data. Meeting fitness goals is indicative of progress, but it’s not an absolute rubric of health, like tracking your blood pressure and biometric levels.

No, your data is not necessarily private or secure. What happens to your data once it is uploaded to the manufacturer’s site? Who has access to that data and for how long? Is this information sold or shared with other entities? Each wearable device and each fitness app has a unique way of structuring and storing data. There is no inherent integration with your wellness portal, and thus the risk of privacy infringement if the data is not properly transferred or integrated. That’s why it’s essential to utilize a HIPAA-compliant data hub that utilizes rigorous healthcare standards to manage, structure, integrate, and secure all healthcare data.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will explain how to identify candidates who can most benefit from receiving a wearable device within the context of your wellness program.

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[1] “Wearables and company wellness programs go hand-in-hand” (Jun 18, 2015).

[2] “The Future of Biosensing Wearables,” (https://rockhealth.com/reports/the-future-of-biosensing-wearables/

 

 

 

 

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