The human race is becoming more and more connected every day. Our phones and watches are smart. We have wrist straps that count our steps and gadgets that measure our sleep. Our health data lives online, ready to be quantified, analyzed, and compared.
While technology has become increasingly popular in workplace wellness programs, however, our experience and evidence suggests it’s not likely to change long-term population health outcomes on its own. For all of its exciting potential, even the best technology works more as a facilitator of change than as a health improvement solution.
For example, the fitness tracker on your wrist will count your steps, but it can’t make you switch off a marathon of Property Brothers and go for a walk. And, that great healthy eating app on your phone can only help you if you’re committed enough to religiously enter your food choices.
Recent behavior change research has shown that technology alone isn’t a solution to our nation’s health problems. For example, one study randomly divided 212 overweight primary care patients into two groups, a control group that received standard care and a test group encouraged to use a popular fitness app. Six months later there was no difference between the app group and the control group and neither group lost weight.
That’s not a criticism of the technology. It just means you have to be as thoughtful about implementing the latest fitness gadget into your wellness plan as you would be about adding technology to any other part of your business. Implement it in an intelligent, strategic way, and the right bit of technology has the potential to supercharge a well-designed wellness program.
Consider the fitness tracker, which is showing up in a growing number of workplace wellness programs. On its own, a tracker might encourage people to pay attention to their steps for a few weeks before they lose interest and toss it in the drawer. But pair it with a well-thought-out fitness challenge, and it can encourage widespread engagement and far more sustained habit changes.
By giving users instant access to information about their activity level, fitness trackers open the door to friendly competition, community support and improved self-awareness. Employees can participate in challenges to see who logs the most steps, work together toward a common goal, and be motivated by the greater sense of mastery and connectedness created by integrating trackers into this proven wellness approach.
The information collected by apps and devices has other value, too, including:
- Tracking fitness over time creates an ongoing profile or “quantified self” that can go beyond annual health assessment data by giving people an anytime picture of their health.
- Daily motivation can be derived from seeing health data change as people make changes in their health habits.
- Smart use of data can enhance a person’s experience with well-being activities if they choose to share it with their wellness program, such as adding richness to coaching interactions and supporting personal customization of portals and messaging.
Finally, technology and apps make it easier than ever for people to stay connected, whether online or through messages and emails. This, in turn, helps wellness champions communicate, educate and share tips and encouragement across their organizations.
Technology is a moving target. What is cutting-edge this year may be outdated next year. The goal, therefore, is not to chase bright, shiny objects at the expense of proven strategies, but to implement appropriate technologies in ways that supercharge existing, best practice programs.
We would like to talk to you about StayWell Charge, for more information contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In good health,
David Anderson, Ph.D., LP