Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wearable Tech Takes Aim at Health Care Costs

As wearable activity trackers, such as Fitbit and Jawbone, continue to gain popularity, many health insurances are creating programs that use data from these trackers to reduce costs of insurance. Technology advances have increased both the amount of data and the accuracy of data that wearable devices can collect. Many people use these activity trackers to help make sure they are active enough to stay healthy, or as motivation to be more active for weight loss.
Insurance companies are creating plans that aim “at boosting physical fitness and reducing health insurance cost for employers and employees” (Lever) through the uses of activity trackers. In a plan by UnitedHealthcare, people can save up to $1,400 by wearing an activity tracker. Steeve Beecy of UnitedHealthCare said that part of why this type of program is being incorporated into health insurance is because, "One of the greatest challenges we have is how to incentivize and motivate individuals to be accountable for their own heath and well- being" (Beecy).
Providing incentives, such as financial benefits, for a healthy lifestyle, is known as ‘gamification’. Many companies are using the ‘gamification’ strategy to motivate their employees. Vitality Group offers employees an apple watch for $25, but then employees must “pay” for the device through workouts. The apple watch is able to track these workouts, proving that the employee has worked for the watch.
One potential issue with these programs is the privacy of the data collected by fitness trackers. Employers and insurers must comply with the US privacy regulations so that health data cannot be seen or used by employers. Although, Bradley Shear, a lawyer specializing in privacy said, "While some employee wellness programs and the data collected may be protected under (federal privacy law), others may not be." (Shear). Barbara Duck, a technology consultant who writes on health privacy feels that the financial incentives are not worth the potential privacy loss. Although, insurance companies cannot sell your data, "they can put a score on your head and sell that."(Duck).
With as many as 20% of American’s using fitness trackers now, this privacy concern is an important issue moving forward. “A survey of more than 200 large employers by the National Business Group on Health found 37 percent used activity trackers in 2015 and another 37 percent planned to adopt the technology in coming years.” (Lever). This shows what a growing industry it is, therefore it is important that we solve these privacy concerns before it becomes an issue of how much data has already been leaked and what we can do to stop it. Before signing up for one of those incentive programs, I would want to know more about what is being done with the data given by the activity tracker. I also am curious how you report your data to the insurance company? Is it possible for people to mess with the data and say they are more active than they actually are?



  1. I think this is a very interesting topic and in your blog you addressed some very important and interesting ideas. The use of wearable technology to monitor health is continuing to grow with devices such as Fitbit and others as well as the newly introduced health insurance benefits like you mentioned. I think it was interesting how you noted that some companies are offering their employees an Apple Watch for a discounted price if they work out to pay for the discount they received. My biggest concern is like you mentioned, my data being sold or given to others from the wearable technology to people other than my health insurer. I personally would be motivated to work out more or improve my health if it meant a deduction on my health insurance. However, I am sure there are those that this is not enough motivation to improve their health themselves and would try to find a way to falsify their data so that it would show they are healthier than they are. Overall, I think that wearable technology is going to have many benefits that will supersede the possible concern of your data being released. The wearable technology is not only going to help with insurance, but in medical field where doctors and physicians are going to be able to monitor you health at all times without you having to go to the doctor.

  2. I find this article to be a bit concerning. What I got from it was that - If I'm given an Apple Watch for $25, that I need to reach a certain fitness goal in order to keep my health insurance. That sounds kind of wrong and illegal, however I assume it's not. I do believe Americans need to be more active and I think that jeopardizing their health insurance would be one way to do it, although I'm not sure it is ethical. I think the companies will absolutely use the data from things like Apple Watches to use against them (even though it says they won't) because there are always ways around this. I think that getting a company issued fitness tracker would be a bit scary - especially if they do access your information only to find that you are not using it for their reasons. I think the idea of providing employees with fitness trackers is nice, I just think this idea should be a bit more refined before making it too popular.


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