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Big Business Survey Suggests mHealth is Motivating Employees

Large companies including subsidized wearables in their health plans are finding lasting engagement among employees - and not just the young over-achievers, either.

By Eric Wicklund

- Large employers may be solving the mHealth engagement puzzle with health plans that include wearables.

A two-year study of 14 large employers, covering some 240,000 employees, saw “no measurable decline in engagement for more than nine months following the program rollout,” according to Jiff, a developer of health benefits platforms that conducted the survey. One company even saw an increase in participation after 18 months.

“Wearables have tremendous potential to improve employee health, but many employers remain skeptical,” Derek Newell, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s CEO, said in remarks accompanying today’s release of the survey. “In reviewing nearly two years of Jiff data from more than 240,000 employees, we found evidence that, when done right, wearables can be an effective tool to engage employees in their health.”

The news comes as the nation’s largest employers are paying more and more attention to telehealth as an employee health benefit – either through an online platform or a health plan that stresses wearables and engagement.

This past August, the National Business Group on Health’s Large Employers’ 2017 Health Plan Design Survey found that nine out of 10 employers will make telehealth an option by 2017 in states where telehealth is permitted – a large jump from 70 percent in 2016 and 48 percent in 2015. And practically all those surveyed plan to make telehealth available to their employees by 2020.

One problem: Getting employees to use the platform. The NBGH survey found only 3 percent of eligible employees using telehealth in 2016, up from just 1 percent in 2015, with estimates putting that figure only as high as 10 percent next year.

Jiff’s survey follows a Willis Towers Watson report that indicates nearly one out of every three employers offers wearable devices to its employees for measuring physical activity, with that number expected to increase to half of all employers by 2018.

“It’s promising that employees increasingly see wellbeing as a top priority and welcome employer support,” Shelly Wolff, a senior consultant for Willis Towers Watson, says in the Jiff report. “But most employers still face a serious challenge around engagement.”

Jiff’s survey could position an mHealth-enabled health plan as a gateway to telehealth adoption. And it’s disproving two popular theories about mHealth: That only the young and healthy use wearables, and that employees will lose interest in them after a few months.

According to the survey, more than half of the employees younger than 40 are participating in health plans that stress mHealth; 36 percent of those over the age of 50 also participated.

“Jiff’s data analysis shows that while younger employees are indeed more likely to participate in wearable programs, older employees also participate at significant rates,” the report concludes. “This dispels the myth that wearables are only for the young invincible population.”

The survey comes with three caveats to successful employee engagement, according to Jiff:

  1. Include a challenge period to drive adoption. One large company saw participation jump from about 12,000 to 38,000 enrolled members in less than three weeks.
  2. Pay for the wearables. While companies who don’t subsidize wearables for their employees saw 31 percent adoption within three months, those offering to at least partially subsidize the devices saw adoption rates of almost 50 percent.
  3. Incentivize healthy behaviors. One company that established benchmarks of 5,000 and 10,000 steps per day found that employees were walking just beyond those marks, suggesting that they were motivated to reach those goals.

Dig Deeper:

Watson Brings mHealth Into the Workplace

Fitbit’s mHealth Quest: Making Doctors Care About Health and Wellness


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