Wearable health technology may be the industry darling, dominating headlines and creating buzz once again at the annual Consumer Electronics Show—but not all are convinced such devices inspire true behavior change.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers cited several issues that prevent wearable health tech from becoming a true agent of lasting behavior change:
- Cost. Devices don’t run cheap. A Fitbit flex band currently runs $99.95 and the Jawbone UP3TM X is $179.99.
- Motivation. Users need to be motivated to purchase and wear a device.
- Memory. Once on, users need to remember to wear the device daily.
- Battery life. It’s all about that charge.
- Accuracy. Newer technologies, such as those that measure heart rate or sleep patterns, have not undergone extensive testing.
- Information exchange. Data needs to be presented to users in a way that’s understandable, motivational and actionable.
Another important fact: Only 1 percent to 2 percent of Americans have used a wearable health device—a small demographic to influence—according to the study.
If wearable health technology isn’t the end-all-be-all in creating a healthier employee population, then how do employers go about creating lasting change? Through three extensive—but less expensive—ways:
1. Year-round communication and engagement
Good habits are hard to form, especially ones around health. Habit formation theories from researchers Nir Eyal and B.J. Fogg emphasize that behavior change requires motivation, ability and feedback loops to drive repeat behavior.
Employers are in a position to provide motivation, access and constant feedback to incite change. To do that, communication must go further than just a program launch and an annual reminder during open enrollment. It must be year-round to provide the pulse checks and feedback loops that keep people engaged. Such communication also should evolve, just as employees do. Motivate employees by creating targeted tracks (sleep, nutrition, stress, etc.) that will grab their attention by appealing to their goals—and then push out information all year to help them complete desired actions.
2. Social collaboration and competition
Humans thrive on collaboration and competition. What does this look like for employers? Create fitness challenges between teams or locations. Have an office step challenge. Provide a forum for employees to find workout partners or discuss their health and fitness tips. Post employee health success stories to your company website. The possibilities are endless!
3. Inspirational feedback that inspires more action
Many incentives come in the form of paycheck credits or gift cards. Ask employees what would be meaningful for them—the right wearable device could make a great incentive as well. Also, personalized health dashboards to track progress against goals are a great visual nudge.
The bottom line
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for improving health. Wearable technology may be one part of the strategy, but true change requires a multi-faceted approach that combines technology, psychology and program design.