Wearable tech: Good for employee health care and good for business

Devices increase engagement and help lower coverage spending

Mar 04, 2019
Health care Employee benefits

As further evidence of technology’s transformative effect on industry and business, wearable tech may be providing middle market health insurers and third-party administrators of employer-sponsored plans with an opportunity to help members lower their health care costs.

Fitbit recently announced that their newest device, Inspire, will be available only to “corporate, wellness, health plan and health systems partners and customers of their organizations, participants and members.” This announcement comes on the heels of tech giant Apple’s publicized relationship with health insurer Aetna to offer Attain, an app that rewards users with prizes if they achieve certain health care goals. UnitedHealth and Humana have similar programs.

By marketing their apps to corporate entities, tech companies are targeting a growing concern regarding per-person spending within employer-sponsored plans. The concern is justified: According to the Health Care Cost Institute’s most recent annual report, average per-member spending increased 4.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, outpacing GDP growth over the same period.

Benefits for employers, employees and health plans

If employers want to reduce the growth rate of their spending on health care coverage for their employees, they will need to improve the way they currently encourage employee wellness. Inspire and Attain are intended to help employers provide their employees with an extra incentive to be more active, and thereby bend the cost curve.

In addition to helping reduce health care-related costs, wearable tech could be used to direct members and employees into specific plan offerings that could benefit the employer or the health plan. Employer groups hoping to encourage their employees to select a plan with a higher deductible, for example, could offer the wearable tech to all employees who select that desired plan.

As wearable technology grows in benefits and pervasiveness, insurers and providers are becoming more and more aligned as providers take on risk for reducing cost, improving outcomes and making the patient experience positive. The prevailing theory is that technology, such as wearable technology and the broader internet of things, will be critical to insurers and providers, who are integrating to become one and the same as they try to execute on this triple aim.

Leveraging a growing trend

And further benefits can be realized, especially related to employee engagement. Getting employees and members to embrace wearables could be leveraged to entice them to use digital therapeutics. Juniper Research reports that the use of wearables has tripled since 2014, and that the estimated number of users of digital therapeutics will increase from 4.5 million people in 2018 to 130 million people in 2023. By offering wearables, employers and health plans could take advantage of these growing trends to regularly engage with their members through digital outreach.

RSM contributors

Subscribe to Health Care Leader Insights

Actionable insights to help health care industry leaders successfully navigate challenges and take advantage of opportunity.