Wearables at Work: how biosensors are changing the workplace.
It’s 7 pm and Jim Brynt, a manager at an energy company, has done 8173 steps, walked 5.77 km and burned 1,902 calories. He still has time to go for a walk and get that pleasant buzz from the activity tracker on his wrist when he gets to 10,000 steps in a day. The companion mobile health app shows him his health data and gives him suggestions about how to improve his health. This data is shared with his employer who rewards him and his team for achieving their individual and group health targets. Jim is also waiting for a new wearable to arrive that will measure his breathing and tell him when he’s relaxed or feeling stressed. His health insurer will cover the cost, and in return he will share his personal health data with them.
This might sound like a distant future, but for 20,000 BP America employees this was the new normal last year.
Jim was happy because he lost 6kg. His wife was happy as Jim’s risk of an early heart attack was seriously reduced. BP was happy as employee engagement with the program was high and the overall health risk for their employees declined by 8.6%. Thus lowering BP’s health care premiums and bringing down overall health care spending by 3.5% — with a ROI of $3:1. BP’s insurer was happy because their members were more engaged and healthier leading to lower claims.
The Current State of Wearables
Wearables are in or on-body accessories and clothing such as activity trackers, smart watches, sensors, pedometers and patches. They incorporate small electronic biosensors to detect activities, such as steps, respiration, brain waves, blood glucose, pupil dilation or heart rate. There are hundreds of different brands and devices, all using sensors to capture millions of data points every day measuring an ever increasing range of biometric signals. Most wearables range in price from $50 to $600 depending on the brand and what you want to track.
Research by PWC in 2014 showed that over 20% of Americans have used a wearable, with possibly a slightly higher adoption rate in Australia. The first wave of wearable users were consumers trying to improve their health and fitness, however there is an increasing take up by corporates including healthcare providers improving post op care, health and life insurers providing incentives to improve the health of members, large scale corporate wellness programs, remote monitoring in the aged-care space and advanced bio-tracking for professional athletes.
Wearables are being used in a wide range of industries including: healthcare, military, transport, mining & resources, manufacturing and of course professional athletes. Two of the main industries to adopt wearables are health insurers and corporate wellness providers.
Within the USA and UK health insurance companies are providing incentives to their members, such as reduced premiums, to achieve daily health targets. Members also get incentives purely for the exchange of personal health data from biosensors. In Australia Medibank is offering Coles Flybuy points in exchange for Fitbit data and the achievement of specific health targets, and NIB and Qantas just teamed up to launch an innovative health insurance product that rewards healthy activity, Qantas Assure. We also recently worked with HBF to collect wearable data. HBF donated money to charity on behalf of participants in the Run for a Reason marathon-training program, that achieved certain milestones in their training program. The program used an app and wearable data to track progress and had high engagement rates.
Around 90% of companies in America offer wellness programs, many now encourage employees to use wearables to measure the track and improve their health and wellness. Given the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism (staying at work while sick) is estimated to be between 3–5% of a companies revenue, deploying a digital corporate wellness program within an organisation can be a cost effective way to bring down these costs while also increasing employee engagement. The wellness program provider Carewise has found that the health care costs of highly engaged participants rise just 0.7% annually, compared with 24% for less engaged participants. In its recent IPO documents Fitbit states it expects much of its future growth to come from this area as companies increasingly offer wellness programs.
Wearables in Corporate Wellness
Its still relatively early days for wearables but in the next few years we think there will be an explosion of organisations using wearables to improve health outcomes and reduce costs (read some of our outcomes here).
To run effective health and wellness programs that take advantage of the benefits of wearables and biosensor data, companies should ensure a few things:
- Companies should work in partnership with employees to ensure a high level of engagement and trust. Employees need to be engaged and keen to share data for a successful wellness program.
- Programs should have objective measures in place before the program starts which can be measured at the end and related to the objectives of the program such as; injury rates, absenteeism or presenteeism rates, pre- and post-program health assessments, health risk profiles for employees or productivity metrics.
Wearables and biosensors are here to stay — on our wrists, shirts and shoes. Those organisations that use biosensor data wisely will be able to deploy engaging preventative health programs across entire staff populations for a fraction of the cost of traditional corporate wellness programs.
Our Digital Health Platform
We’re working with insurers, employers and aged care providers to improve the health and wellness of their staff and clients and are excited the future of digital health. If you’re thinking about using wearables or running a digital health program in your organisation have a look at our website or get in touch over email.