15/07/2015 - 06:22

With fitness in fashion, wear the technology

15/07/2015 - 06:22

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Small smart sensors are changing the workplace as wearable technology becomes more widely used.

With fitness in fashion, wear the technology
ON THE MOVE: Wearable technology is gaining traction in the US. Photo: iStockphoto

Small smart sensors are changing the workplace as wearable technology becomes more widely used.

It has just gone 7pm and Jim Bryne, a manager at an energy company, has taken 8,173 steps, walked 5.77 kilometres and burned 1,902 calories so far today.

He still has time to go for a walk and get that buzz from the activity tracker on his wrist when he gets to 10,000 steps in a day. The companion mobile health app shows him his health data and gives him suggestions about how to improve his health. This data is shared with his employer, who rewards him and his team for achieving their individual and group health targets.

Jim is also waiting for a new wearable device to arrive that will measure his breathing and tell him when he’s relaxed or feeling stressed. His health insurer will cover the cost, and in return he will share his personal health data with them.

This might sound like a distant future, but for 24,000 BP employees in the UK this was normal last year. Jim was happy because he lost six kilograms and reduced his risk of a heart attack.

BP was happy because employee engagement with the program was high and the overall health risk for their employees declined by 8.6 per cent. This lowered BP’s health care premiums and reduced overall health care spending by 3.5 per cent (with an ROI of $3:1). Finally, BP’s insurer was happy because its members were more engaged and healthier, leading to lower claims.

There is a revolution happening. It’s happening on our wrists, shoes, glasses and clothing and its called wearable technology, or wearables for short.

Wearables

Wearables are in-body or on-body accessories and clothing such as activity trackers, smart watches, sensors, pedometers and patches. They incorporate small electronic sensors to detect activities including steps, respiration, brain waves, blood glucose, pupil dilation and heart rate.

Recent research shows between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of Americans have used a wearable, with possibly a slightly higher adoption rate in Australia. The first wave of wearable users is made up of consumers trying to improve their health and fitness. However there is an increasing take up by corporates, including healthcare providers improving post-op care, health and life insurers providing incentives to improve the health of members, large-scale corporate wellness programs, remote monitoring in the aged-care space, and advanced bio-tracking for professional athletes.

Two of the main industries to adopt wearables are health insurers and corporate wellness providers.

Insurance

Health insurance companies in the US and UK are providing incentives to their members, such as reduced premiums, to achieve daily health targets. Members also get incentives purely for the exchange of personal health data from biosensors.

In Australia, Medibank is offering Coles Flybuy points in exchange for data collected by fitness trackers and the achievement of specific health targets. Locally, HBF recently donated money to charity on behalf of participants in the Run for a Reason marathon-training program who achieved certain milestones in their training program. The program used an app and wearable data to track progress.  

Corporate health

A vast majority of companies in the US offer wellness programs, and many now encourage employees to use wearables to measure the track and improve their health and wellness. Given the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism (staying at work while sick) is estimated to be between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of a company’s revenue, deploying a digital corporate wellness program within an organisation can be a cost-effective way to bring down these costs, while also increasing employee engagement.

The wellness program provider Carewise has found that the health care costs of highly engaged participants rise just 0.7 per cent annually, compared with 24 per cent for less engaged participants.

Why wear?

Its still early days for wearables, but over time organisations will recognise the potential it offers to improve performance. As wearable technology spreads, managers should work in partnership with employees to create improved performance and personal wellbeing.

Companies and research organisations need to work together to determine what scientific validity there is to exercise, weight loss and productivity and satisfaction at work. Each program should have objective measures in place before the program starts, which can be measured at the end and related to the objectives of the program. Wearable technology is here to stay on our wrists, shirts, shoes and other places. Those organisations that use it wisely will develop a competitive advantage.

 

 

Ron Cacioppe

Managing director

Integral Development

ron@integral.org.au

With Jonah Cacioppe, managing director of Boundlss.

jonah@boundlss.com

 


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