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
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.