“Bring Your Own Device” was just the tip of the iceberg. The convergence of work and personal life continues with companies taking things one step further by keeping closer tabs on employee health and wellness, and personal fitness gadgets could become a center component.
Over the last few years, companies have begun offering employees some kind of wellness benefit package, whether it’s a set sum of money for fitness classes or the flexibility to work out in a fitness facility on a company campus. These wellness benefits aren’t free for the company, and if employees aren’t using them, why should a company spend the money? To solve the problem, some have started offering incentives, or reverse incentives, to employees who disclose certain information, confirming to employers they are serious about their personal wellness.
The Financial Health Incentive
This isn’t a small trend, either. According to the National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans conducted by Mercer, a global consulting firm, 48 percent of employers with 500 or more employees offer financial incentives and penalties to employees that participate in company health management programs, whether it’s a deduction on their health care premium for a gym membership or financial penalties, as CVS Caremark has recently instituted.
“The difference between different employer groups is really how they choose to help to incentivize folks to engage in their own wellness and health,” said Heidi Howard, senior director of sales, profession channel at BodyMedia, a company that makes personal fitness trackers.
According to recent published reports, CVS is requiring employees to participate in a health screening and wellness review, and then disclose information such as their weight, height, body fat and blood pressure to a third-party administrator that supports the company’s insurance plan. Employees who do not participate must pay an additional $50 a month for health coverage.
“These types of events are not denying anyone access to benefits, but differentiating from those who are actively engaging in their health by virtue of becoming aware of their health statistics,” said Renya Spak, health management expert and principal at Mercer.
Consumer Fitness Gadgets Play a Role
As changes in health care trends and the emergence of the technology-driven quantified-self movement continue, companies could begin asking employees to offer up more and more health-related information, and personal health gadgets could play a big role.
That’s what’s happening at +Citizen, a mobile tech company. It has instituted a program it calls the Citizen Evolutionary Process Organism, or C3PO, which asks employees to track their personal fitness through tools like FitBit products. NIke+ GPS Sportswatch and the RunKeeper app, and then disclose that information to the company. For now, the program is voluntary and only 10 percent of employees have signed up.
“What we see is a really broad range of how different employer groups want to address that [personal wellness],” said Howard, whose background is in corporate health. “And then from there, how they see devices like BodyMedia complimenting wellness and health.”
Many consumers already use a GPS running app like Nike+ or MapMyRun to quantify their daily exercise routines, and more and more people are purchasing devices like BodyMedia’s armband and FitBit’s line of devices that can help consumers track their exercise, weight, nutrition and sleep habits. According to ABI Research, the fitness tracker market will hit 90 million shipments by 2017.
“All the information is displayed for the consumer and that information, pieces of that information, could be important to a health plan or to a vendor who was powering rewards,” Howard said.
Employers looking to track employee fitness as part of its wellness plans could open up an entire new market for companies like FitBit and BodyMedia. Both companies currently work with employers, insurers and wellness programs to leverage their existing consumer products.
“What we’re seeing is you’re starting with products people really love, so consumers are using them, they’re enjoying them,” said Amy McDonough, FitBit’s director of business development. “And we just saw it made the employer programs much more easy to engage in and participate in longer, therefore being more effective.”
Rather than develop new products aimed at this emerging market, FitBit has leveraged its existing fitness trackers by developing corporate tools, such as a dashboard where companies can view all the aggregated results in a single location, in order to increase its offerings to organizations looking to institute an employee wellness plan. It’s very similar to the way companies leveraged consumer devices like smartphones in fueling the Bring Your Own Device movement in enterprises.
“We find that having a really consumer focused product and then applying that into corporate wellness is actually really effective,” McDonough said. “We have built some corporate tools for our enterprise level employers, to help give them that visibility into the program.”
The big concern surrounding this issue centers on privacy. Companies walk a tight line between what is considered private information and what information a company should be privy to. Both BodyMedia and FitBit are conscientious of user privacy and have their own privacy agreements in place to ensure employers don’t have access to any information an employee has not agreed to share.
“The reality is, never does the employer see an individual employees’ results,” said Spak, who also stressed that employers are required to have pre-authorization from employees that defines the privacy statement ensuring security for both the employers and the employees. Instead of seeing results of individual employees, companies receive reports in aggregate form.
Presumably a company could include, as a term of employment, a clause that states employees have to disclose certain health and fitness information to the company.
“We’re not seeing a lot in that space, and certainly there are regulatory environments where any kind of model needs to be considered,” Spak said. “So that’s certainly on the fringe at this point, and not the focus of the most common programs today.”
As technology speeds up the convergence of personal and business life, combined with recent changes in health care legislation, it is likely employers will attempt to access more and more information about employee health and wellness, in order to better engage their employers with their own personal health. The programs at CVS Caremark and +Citizen are examples already in place at companies across the nation, and some might start asking for more information or more participation to better cut their own health insurance costs and increase employee productivity.
“A lot of this is coming together and at the end of the day, it’s the consumer who is the person who is really going to benefit from this,” Howard said.
But it’s also a whole new market for wearable fitness monitors and an area of growth for the companies that make them.