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

The wearable developer says results from corporate fitness programs prove that mHealth wearables can reduce healthcare costs, boost clinical outcomes and promote engagement.

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare providers have balked at embracing wearables because they aren’t sure how to integrate the data into the clinical record.

Fitbit executives say the time has come to start embracing.

The developers of the most widely-adopted fitness tracker on the market are touting recent results from corporate wellness programs as proof that a wrist-borne activity tracker can improve health and reduce healthcare-related costs. And they’re telling health systems that it’s time to accept health and wellness as a legitimate tool for improving clinical outcomes.

“The opportunity is there (for providers) to use consumerism, to tap into the power of the individual to affect change,” says Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit Group Health. “The results we’re seeing are not only (showing) cost savings, but improving clinical outcomes as well.”

Earlier this month, Fitbit released a study showing that the Dayton Regional Transit Authority has saved some $2.3 million in employee costs savings and healthy outcome since launching a Fitbit-based program in 2014.

The Ohio company passed out wearables some more than 600 of its employees, and reported significant reductions in LDL cholesterol levels and blood-glucose levels in the first year.

“When you are a bus driver, sitting for eight hours a day is part of the job,” Mark Donaghy, the DRTA’s chief executive officer, said in a press release. “We knew we had to get our employees moving to improve their health and our budget.”

A second study, conducted by Springbuk on a large, self-insured employer with more than 20,000 employees, found that the 866 employees who took part in the Fitbit program saw their healthcare costs drop by almost a quarter when compared to a control group – a savings of roughly $1,300 per person.

“This demonstration of impact achieved by integrating Fitbit technology into an employee wellness program reinforces our belief in the power of health data and measurement in demonstrating ROI,” Rod Reasen, co-founder and CEO of Springbuk, said in the release. “The study shows that a combination of Fitbit activity trackers with a comprehensive wellness program can enable employers to see significant impact on their healthcare costs.

For healthcare providers, McDonough says the results from these and other corporate wellness programs translate into reduced healthcare expenditures and improved clinical outcomes.   

“Fitbit data may not be very actionable at the EHR level, but you can make that data actionable in a layer that is above the EHR,” she says. “Doctors need to learn how this data applies to them.”

For emphasis, she points to another term near and dear to the mHealth community: Engagement. A standard employee health program attracts about 20 percent of the workforce, she says; Fitbit-based programs have reported participation rates of between 40 percent and 90 percent. And studies have shown that employees who use wearables and chart their progress on social media with co-workers, family and friends are 11 percent more active.

“This is a measurement device for health and wellness,” McDonough says, pointing out that Fitbit was around “before there was a word for wearables.” “We are a data-driven company. We’re an analytics-driven company. There are a lot of opportunities for us in healthcare.”

When healthcare providers question whether Fitbit data is relevant to the medical record, McDonough wonders if that provider understands the value of the data. She notes that a handful of health systems are using Fitbits in clinical studies – not just to collect information, but to give doctors and their patients a common platform to discuss health management.

“That 10-minute conversation you have in a doctor’s office isn’t going to include a thorough history of how many steps you took, but it is going to talk about health and wellness and decision-making,” she says.  

Dig Deeper:

Fitbit Makes a Play for mHealth Engagement

New Wearables Study Misses the Point on mHealth

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