What HR lead­ers need to do be­fore adopt­ing health apps

Prior to rolling out well­ness tech­nolo­gies to em­ploy­ees, ben­e­fits ex­ec­u­tives should try prod­ucts to test ef­fec­tive­ness

Employee Benefit News - - COMMENTARY - BY STEVE BLUMENFIELD

More and more, health-re­lated smart­phone apps and wear­ables are be­com­ing a part of em­ployer ef­forts to help em­ploy­ees achieve op­ti­mal health and well-be­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­lis Tow­ers Wat­son, 59% of em­ploy­ers now com­mu­ni­cate and ed­u­cate em­ploy­ees about health and well­ness through apps and por­tals. Us­age is ex­pected to in­crease to 93% by 2018. Mean­while, em­ploy­ees sur­veyed said tech­nolo­gies in­clud­ing wear­able de­vices to mon­i­tor fit­ness ac­tiv­ity, on­line fo­rums on health is­sues and apps to track diet, sleep or a health con­di­tion were im­por­tant to man­ag­ing their health.

How­ever, be­fore em­ploy­ers ask their em­ploy­ees to adopt tech­nolo­gies to man­age their health, it’s vi­tal that HR lead­ers make sure that the apps and wear­ables they’re pro­vid­ing work as ad­ver­tised. If not, em­ploy­ees might use them for a short pe­riod of time and then aban­don them. Or, they might not use them at all. Worst of all, a bad ex­pe­ri­ence may keep em­ploy­ees from us­ing the next one that can help them.

The first chal­lenge is de­cid­ing which prod­ucts to eval­u­ate. This isn’t as easy as it sounds: Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, in 2016 there were more than 165,000 health-re­lated apps that run on Ap­ple’s iOS and Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tems. Add to that some 40 cat­e­gories of wear­able de­vices, each with mul­ti­ple ven­dors and prod­ucts. While a large ma­jor­ity of th­ese prod­ucts are mar­keted pri­mar­ily to con­sumers, ven­dors are in­creas­ingly tar­get­ing em­ploy­ers be­cause they rep­re­sent long-term, high-vol­ume sales, and be­cause em­ploy­ers are look­ing for more con­sumer-grade so­lu­tions in hopes of en­gag­ing em­ploy­ees in their health.

The se­cond chal­lenge is to thor­oughly and rig­or­ously test prod­ucts be­fore they are de­ployed widely to em­ploy­ees. The im­por­tance of com­pre­hen­sive test­ing can­not be over­es­ti­mated. The sto­ries our em­ployer-clients tell us about their ex­pe­ri­ences eval­u­at­ing apps or wear­ables tend to fall into one of two cat­e­gories: 1) a ven­dor has ei­ther de­lighted them with a “wow” ex­pe­ri­ence or 2) dis­ap­pointed them with a mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence. In ad­di­tion, they tell us that choos­ing brand-name prod­ucts from proven mar­ket lead­ers — in­clud­ing their health plans and PBMs — is not nec­es­sar­ily a guar­an­tee of qual­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity or an en­gag­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence.

Even when a prod­uct lives up to its hype, it might not meet the needs of your or­ga­ni­za­tion or in­te­grate well with your well­ness pro­gram goals or in­cen­tives. This is why HR pro­fes­sion­als should be in­cluded in on the test­ing process so they can ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand what they are ask­ing of em­ploy­ees. In other words, when it comes to apps and wear­ables, HR pros should not only “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk.” Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prod­ucts first­hand be­fore wide de­ploy­ment might make the dif­fer­ence be­tween wast­ing time and money on short-term tech toys ver­sus mak­ing jus­ti­fi­able in­vest­ments in long-term, valu­able tech­nolo­gies.

De­spite the pre­cau­tions, re­mem­ber that there are a wide-rang­ing num­ber of apps that em­ploy­ers can use to pos­i­tively in­flu­ence em­ploy­ees to change and mon­i­tor their be­hav­ior. The tech­nol­ogy is rapidly ad­vanc­ing so it’s up to you to in­ves­ti­gate the myr­iad op­tions thor­oughly be­fore buy­ing. At the end of the day, you’ll want to be sure the ones you se­lect work as ad­ver­tised and are a good match with your or­ga­ni­za­tion and your em­ploy­ees.

Steve Blumenfield is se­nior con­sul­tant and di­rec­tor, strate­gic op­por­tu­ni­ties and al­liances, at Wil­lis Tow­ers Wat­son.

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