Wellness Technology; Tools or Miracles?

Technology has taken center stage for wellness in recent years. Devices can track individual’s physical activity, websites can reward healthy behaviors and messages can be filtered with push notifications based on health risk or demographics. So, as technology and tools get “smarter” why aren’t people getting healthier?

While technology can be an instrumental tool for delivering population health and well-being programs, is it not a single solution. Let’s say that again. Technology is a tool, not the solution. Let’s look at some of the more recent popular wellness technologies.

Wearable Fitness Devices. Wearables have gotten a lot of attention the last few years and have only grown in popularity among wellness programs. From basic pedometers to Fitbits and Jawbones along with web portals to track and reward usage. Companies are even purchasing Fitbits for entire populations in hopes of improving employee health through increased physical activity. Fitbits, which average $100 per device have been the leader in the market accounting for 23% market share in 2016 according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) reports. A new research report from Juniper Research says almost 60 million fitness trackers will be in use by 2018.

Do wearable fitness devices work? 

They work to track physical activity. The real question is does the device change behavior or health? Last year results of a study by the IDEA trial were published. The trial took place at the University of Pittsburgh and looked at the contribution of wearable devices to weight loss programs. At the end of two years, those without access to the wearable technology lost an average of 13 pounds. Those with the wearable tech lost an average of 7.7 pounds. In this trial those who wore the technology were no more physically active or more fit that the other group!

Do wearable fitness devices hurt?

There is no harm. Wearable devices provide a benefit. They can be fun, informative and offer helpful reminders, but they are not “the solution”.

Health APPS.  There are so many health and fitness-related apps that reported numbers vary. According to Apple there are over 100,000 available to the general market. While more and more health apps come to market, the number of consumer downloads and usage is slowing.

Health Apps help by providing some motivation and more organization. For some users, apps help chart health, habits and more. It’s easier for some, than keeping the information on a piece of paper in their wallet.

Before offering or using a health app, do your research. This 26 billion dollar industry has many apps that are untested, unreliable and unregulated. The most reliable medical apps will come from collaboration with physicians and experts that work with developers.

Online Wellness Portals may include interactive health challenges, reward tracking for incentives, and some include health data analytics and health coaching modules. The best online portals are the ones that employees visit and engage on. The first and biggest hurdle for a successful online portal is to drive the employees to go to the site or download the app. Once the user is connected, keeping them engaged in behavior change or motivational programs is the second hurdle. The key to ongoing sustained engagement on a health portal is the human touch behind the technology. You can have the best push notification technology, but what message are you pushing? Reminding someone to get up every hour will never be as impactful as the emotional appeal of a caring person ready to help.

Choosing the best technology for your program is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The best programs are planned around the people they are meant for and the technology of choice should be the best to support that plan. Before you conform your program to a turnkey technology because of the bells and whistles, look for substance. We all know that one size fits all wellness programs don’t work, so why not start by building your program with substance and then choosing the technology that can support it?

Technology can enhance people’s lives and accelerate improvement, but it can’t perform miracles. To promote and reinforce behavior change for health and happiness improvement, people need to be emotionally motivated, have realistic goals, tools to help them achieve and commitment to continue action. Inspiring content and the right engagement strategy can help by providing the substance your people need and deliver high touch messages with high-tech solutions.