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UnitedHealthcare Announces a Huge Expansion of its mHealth Program

The insurer's mHealth wellness program, running on Qualcomm Life's 2net hub, will expand to 40 states and include more activity trackers, like the Fitbit Charge 2.

By Eric Wicklund

- An mHealth program launched by one of the nation’s largest insurers that pays employees for meeting activity goals is getting a huge upgrade.

UnitedHealthcare announced today at CES 2017 that it is expanding its Motion wellness program to 40 states and opening up the digital health platform to accept more activity trackers – including the Fitbit Charge 2 - through a “bring your own device” model.

Company spokesman Will Shanley said UHC officials were pleased with the results of a pilot program launched in a dozen states last year.

“There was significant interest,” he says. Businesses “are seeing a lot of employees engaged in wellness, and they’re telling us they want to invest in those types of programs.”

Running on Qualcomm Life’s 2net hub, UnitedHealthcare Motion enables businesses to track employees’ step counts throughout the day as they work toward three separate goals, known as F.I.T. goals. F.I.T. stands for frequency (six five-minute sessions per day, at least one hour apart, of at least 500 steps), intensity (3,000 steps within 30 minutes) and tenacity (10,000 total steps in a day).

Employees taking part in the program can earn up to $4 a day in deductible costs if they meet those goals, or as much as $1,460 in a year.

“It’s an easy, turnkey way for companies, especially small companies, to develop a robust wellness program,” says Shanley. “Tracking steps is actually very, very easy. There’s not a lot that the employee has to do except walk.”

“The growth of UnitedHealthcare Motion showcases the value of providing companies and their employees with personalized, connected health and wellness resources,” Richard Migliori, MD, UnitedHealth Group’s chief medical officer, said in a press release issued this morning at the Consumer Electronic Association show in Las Vegas. “Wearable technology can help encourage employees to walk each day and earn financial rewards at the same time, using secure technology that we believe is intuitive and convenient.”

Shanley said the 2016 pilot offered two valuable lessons. First, employees may like the program once they get into it – at least one company reported 90 percent participation – but they need a little push to get started. So UHC tacked on a $40 registration credit, giving employees that extra little momentum and bringing the total savings up to $1,500.

The second point ties into the popularity of the activity tracker market – more than 13 million wearable fitness and activity trackers are expected to be incorporated into employee wellness program by 2018, according to Endeavors Partners. Shanley said many companies asked that the platform be configured to allow more devices, giving employees the freedom to choose which device suits their needs.

“BYOD was the natural evolution of the program,” he says. The Fitbit Charge 2 – Fitbit’s newest device – will be integrated and validated with the 2net platform and the Motion program early this year, and other devices will follow.

Qualcomm Life’s 2net hub is also an important part of the program. The platform collects data from devices automatically, rather than relying on the user to input results. This ensures that the data is accurate and reliable – a key consideration when placed alongside a recent Science & Medicine study that indicates people tend to overestimate their time spent exercising each week.

While UHC hasn’t had enough time to compare the increased activity with measurable clinical outcomes, Shanley says that will come in time, as companies report on employee participation, F.I.T. goals achieved, deductible savings paid out and healthcare expenses.

Shanley says he doesn’t expect UHC to change the program any time soon.

“The program and incentives are simple and workable,” he says. “The goals are measurable and attainable and backed by science. That’s really where we want to be right now. We’re certainly open to other measures of health later on.”

Dig Deeper:

Physician Perspectives on Benefits of mHealth Adoption, Use

Key Steps for Payer Success in Accountable Care Organizations

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