Originally posted by United Benefit Advisors (UBA).

The latest craze in wearable technology is a device — usually a bracelet — that tracks a person’s fitness. Often smaller than a watch, fitness tracking bracelets do so much more due to the technology inside them. These devices and their associated mobile apps are more than just basic pedometers, they track what people eat, how well they sleep, their progress in workouts, heart rate, body temperature, and more. Then, once the data is collected, the wearer gets tips on how to improve every aspect of their health. It’s like having a fitness coach who follows them around.

Now, when someone says they ran five miles, slept a full eight hours, or ate healthy meals, they can verify this via the data collected. Conversely, the device also keeps track of when a person is indulging in not-so-healthy activities.
While some people may not want to be reminded of their bad health habits, others are flocking to this as a way to improve their overall well-being — and companies are taking notice! According to an article on Bloomberg.com, an employee at BP was given an option to reduce his annual insurance bill by $1,200. All he had to do was wear a fitness-tracking bracelet to earn points toward lowering his insurance. After just one year, this employee shed 70 pounds, 10 pant sizes, and got his high blood pressure and cholesterol into the “normal” range.

BP committed to purchasing the device, but compared to the amount the company potentially saved on insurance claims, it was an investment in an employee that paid off and a great example of how companies are using new tactics to fight rising insurance premiums. Insurance companies are also jumping on the bandwagon and creating programs that incorporate wearable gadgets into their policies. The goal is to get people to become more aware of the choice they make concerning their health and to then make the right decisions. By doing so, the payoff is two-fold — better health and cheaper health care costs. As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), companies can reward employees for healthy behavior with incentives of up to 30% (and in some cases 50%) of premium.

The downside to this is the huge red flag that’s waving concerning an individual’s right to privacy. Employees are focused on health, which is good, but at the expense of privacy, which could be bad. Throw in financial incentives and an employee is often swayed into participating in something they would not normally do. The potential, of course, is that this information could also be used against an employee.

 

According to a study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health, companies have doubled their wellness spending since 2009 to almost $600 per employee per year. Fitness-tracking technology is similar to the trend in car insurance where a monitoring device attaches to a car and records how it’s being driven. Theoretically, the data is used to more accurately reflect insurance rates versus the owner’s driving history.

 

Another red flag is the concern for security. Regardless of whether a company, insurer, or just the wearer is keeping track of all this data, who is it being shared with voluntarily or involuntarily? Companies need to make sure they’re complying with federal laws including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but everyone involved should also ensure that the data is secure. In the aforementioned BP example, the company doesn’t even see specific data on each employee, only data in aggregate.

 

While in its infancy, this technology is a giant leap forward to changing employee health care habits and providing employers with hard data they can take to insurers in order to lower premiums. This will overall have a more positive effect on the wellness of employees and their perception that the company is truly looking out for their best interests.