By Ashleigh Ruhl, California Business Journal.
American businesses are the largest provider of healthcare in the U.S, with more than 56% of all coverage coming through employers. So if these businesses are going to make a dent in the $3.6 trillion healthcare spending, a healthy and productive workforce is a huge part of that.
But just how do we achieve workplace wellness? There is no single answer to curbing the estimated 1.4 billion days employees are unable to perform at work each year. But the keys to engaged employee health just might lie in the measurement from modern wearables, the humanity of motivation, and the challenge of gamification.
Getting a push from a digital watch or fitness tracker is a concept that appeals to many people trying to get into or stay in shape. It’s estimated that one in four people in the United States today are using wearable health devices at least once a month, according to eMarketer.com.
Worldwide, wearable sales are expected to grow by an average of 20% each year over the next five years, representing a $29 billion market with 243 million unit sales by 2022, according to industry analyst CCS Insight.
And the underlying psychology is self-evident: “The idea is that people who are actively engaged in their own health fitness and diet will be more likely to have above average wellness and vitality,” says Glenn Wilk, a marketing and e-commerce executive who founded the Irvine-based USHealthShare.com.
Millions of people today count their steps and often park further away on purpose to get more movement in a given day. The technology has empowered individuals to be more aware of their physical activity and set goals to stay healthy.
“A lot of people want to have a measurable way of looking at their health on a daily basis,” Wilk says. “This is a form of encouragement and information that people can use to see ways to help improve their health.”
Yet many medical professionals and fitness experts caution that these wearables have yet to impact our health in any measurable way.
“First, the accuracy of these devices are questionable,” says Aaron Ferguson, celebrity trainer and author of The Game On! Diet: Kicking Your Friend’s Butt While Shrinking Your Own. “Essentially these wearables tend to be expensive pedometers that only loosely measure one side of the equation–the amount of burn. What goes ‘in’ is of vital importance, and knowing exactly how much energy and nutrient balance are needed is something these devices don’t deal with at all.”
For Wilk, wearable technology is just one part of a more engaged healthcare world, where people can connect with and help other people online. His company, for example, USHealthShare.com, is a digital marketplace that links potential enrollees with health care brokers across the country, including those that specialize in modern, member-to-member health shares.
More than one million people in the U.S. are members of shared healthcare programs like those found on USHealthShare.com, saving them thousands of dollars annually, Wilk says.
“Getting people engaged in their health is key to overall wellness,” he adds. “That’s one reason why we believe member-based health sharing is the future of affordable healthcare. Nonprofit health share organizations have a mission to keep one another’s medical costs down by helping each other maintain health and wellness. The only way to do that successfully is to educate patients and make them active participants in their health care.”
Ferguson, the fitness trainer, agrees when asked about the downsides of using gadgets alone: “Accountability. Accountability. Accountability. The difference even other people can make to an individual’s health and wellness efforts are 10-fold. With other people engaged, it changes the whole mentality and they tend to function at a much higher level. Their commitment, dedication and compliance are exponentially greater.”
Wilk points out that health share companies are going above and beyond to keep their members healthy. For instance, Altrua HealthShare offers members a Health Living plan through a company founded in 1979, Careington. Although a self-pay add-on, the program helps provide discounts and savings so members can “take better control of their health and wellness,” according to the Altrua site.
Additionally, emerging health shares like UHSM (www.uhsm.com) have gone a step further, partnering with telemedicine and concierge specialist Healthrive (www.ihealthrive.com) to keep its members healthy and engaged. Healthrive works with health share members to help educate them on health, wellness, and how education about our healthcare system to help keep costs down for patients.
“Health share programs by their very nature get members more involved and engaged in their health care,” Wilk says. “And, as cool as tech gadgets are, they are not enough. Humans helping humans, and using the community, is probably more important,” he says, praising at-home technologies that leverage the community fitness concept, such as Peloton.
Jumping into a class or challenging your friends or coworkers—from home—has proven to be one of the most powerful keys to achieving and maintaining health and wellness. “One of the most valuable health and fitness trends I see at the moment is the move to in-home training,” Ferguson says. “Either through machines like the Peloton or home gyms like the Tonal unit, working out at home just saves so much time and is so convenient; which make the compliance so much higher.”
Psychologically, competition shapes our behavior because we want the reward … the prize, the new job, the recognition. Peleton’s live classes, leaderboards and badges; and Tonal’s cardio classes, partner workouts, and Coach A.I., are key reasons for their success.
“The connectivity available through these devices will only increase until I imagine we have virtual simulation units that provide the full sensation of a class or race within the comfort of our homes,” Ferguson says.
USHealthShare.com helps people find modern health shares because by its very nature, the programs get members more involved in their healthcare. “There are so many things that you cannot control in your lives, but you can control, to some extent, your health and wellness,” Wilk says. “As business owners and leaders, we can continue to seek out health care companies that are committed to improving care and lowering costs by helping us get and stay healthy.”
The keys to engaged employee health just might lie in the measurement from modern wearables, the humanity of motivation, and the challenge of gamification.
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