Incentives are the key to getting patients to engage with connected health devices in a meaningful way.

March 10, 2014

4 Min Read
Getting Health Consumers Connected—to Cash

Incentives are the key to getting patients to engage with connected health devices in a meaningful way.

By Michael Dermer, Welltok Inc.

Weaving medical devices and consumer health technology into our daily lives has great potential to improve the health of our nation, but only if we truly optimize the use of the information tracked and have the right incentives in place to maintain engagement.

There’s no arguing that the connected health movement has reached a tipping point—52% of consumers are interested in buying wearable health trackers, according to the 2014 Accenture Digital Consumer Tech Survey, and 47% of those who own wearable fitness devices and sleep trackers report using them every day, according to a study by the Consumer Electronics Association.

This is good news for healthcare. According to analysis by the Brookings Institute, remote monitoring technologies could save the U.S. healthcare system $197 billion between 2010 and 2035 by measuring and monitoring everything from heart activity to physical activity, sleep, caloric intake, and biometric data.

In many cases, the use of wearable tracking devices is passive. Many devices measure and pass on data without requiring the user to do anything but wear the device. For some consumers, these devices are becoming fashionable accessories (take, for example, the recent announcement of a Fitbit designed by fashion brand Tory Burch). But how do we ensure consumers are truly engaged in using these tools and not just following a passing trend? How can we initiate healthy habbits?

“Eighty percent of health apps are abandoned within two weeks,” Marco Della Torre, vice presdient of product science at Basis Science Inc. told the 7th Annual USC Body Computing Conference last year. Because many of these products operate without consumer intention, designers of wearable health devices cannot fall into the “build it and they will come” mentality. The industry must find a way to truly engage users and create sustained healthy behaviors. It is not enough to simply wear these devices as accessories and log the results in silo. The tracked data needs to be feed into a trusted platform and reported back to population health managers so they provide incentives to propel continued activity.

So, in addition to great product design, how can we optimize the growing suite of wearable technology? Incentive-driven healthcare may be the answer. Consider this. A recent survey of 2,000 adults by Harris Interactive found that many patients would share their personal data with insurers and take specific health actions if they received rewards such as lower premiums or gift cards. The types of data patients are willing to share include lifestyle information and medical test results (e.g., blood pressure, genetic tests). Three-quarters said they would share the results of a blood pressure check, while 68% were willing to share information about their blood sugar or cholesterol. Just over half said they would take part in a health plan–monitored exercise regimen to lose weight or control diabetes. Nearly 40% would follow a specific diet to help lower their blood pressure or cholesterol if incentivized. The availability of this information can help population health managers design health optimization programs for their members by pairing activities with rewards.

While many payors and providers have been exploring mobile health applications to help individuals live better lives, financial rewards may bridge the gap to actual meaningful use. The timing is ripe. Under Obamacare, companies can spend 30% (and in the case of smoking 50%) of annual insurance premiums on rewards for healthy behavior. According to Healthstat, health rewards are expected to be among the top five health IT trends in 2014.

At Welltok, we have seen the positive impact of both intrinsic and extrinsic incentives for consumers to step away from their desks to start logging steps on their pedometers.

Like consumer wearable tech companies, medical device companies will be charged with not only great product functionality, but also the ability to engage the consumer to integrate these devices into their daily lives. In particular, while they must enables those who bear the cost of health risks – payors, governments, employers – to reward the users of their devices. This will require product plans for medical devices to include reward and incentive capabilities.

The timing couldn’t be better for healthy habits to take hold with the explosion of connected, wearable devices and the growth of incentives. Now it’s up to consumers to power on and go.

Michael Dermer is chief incentive officer at Welltok, Inc., where he helps the health marketplace optimize its incentive programs from both a design and execution perspective as part of overall engagement strategies. Through this expertise Welltok hopes to enable the health community to create true health optimization. Reach him at [email protected].


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