Health Apps Abound With Wellness Programs-Are Patients Engaged?

Employee wellness programs are now being supported by apps developed by technology giants like Google and Apple. But are they really helping keep patients engaged and on-track with their health goals?

Healthcare technology firms and technology giants like Google and Apple regularly announce the development of devices and applications that help monitor, record, and communicate patient health parameters. These devices claim to help patients stay on track to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. All it needs is a smart device like a tablet or a smartphone.

Insurance companies are collaborating with tech companies to develop these apps for their members to maintain optimal health. When Apple launched the HealthKit platform on iOS devices in September of this year, several companies announced that their apps integrate with this platform. These include apps to track activity, nutrition, sleep patterns, weight, vitals like heart rate and blood pressure, and so on.

For employers who run wellness programs, this is a win-win—healthy employees would mean fewer episodes of emergency hospital visits and fewer days of lost productivity. Aon Hewitt conducted an employer survey in 2013 and found that 69% had “changing employee health behavior” on their agenda for the next 3 to 5 years.

The question remains though, how engaged are the consumers? A recent survey conducted by Cigna of 1800 adults found that while a majority were altering their lifestyle for better health outcomes, it wasn’t enough. The survey results indicated that 85% of the 1800 were still working towards their goals, citing lack of willpower and distractions.

And then there’s the trust factor: trust in the apps for HIPAA compliance and trust in the employers, who might only be sugar-coating their interest in cost savings with “employee health concerns”.

Going back to Cigna, they used the results of their survey to reformulate their strategy by rolling out the Health Matters program, which offers social media, games, and cash and gift card incentives to its members. Eric Herbek, vice president of product development and consumer health engagement at Cigna said in a statement, “By combining clinical insights, health coaches, digital tools, measurement and reward engines, we have our customers’ backs to help them get on the right path, and stay on it.”

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