Insurers: Create compelling strategies to motivate consumers to use wearable devices

As insurers increasingly promote wearable devices like FitBit in wellness programs and other initiatives, three University of Pennsylvania medical professors warn that they don't actually lead to behavior change unless people who actually need the devices wear them consistently and use them correctly, according to a recent editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Mitesh S. Patel, lead editorial author and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said that wearable devices often appeal to people who are already motivated to change their health behaviors. Consumers who actually need to improve their health, including those with chronic conditions, rarely purchase the devices.

"If wearable devices are to be part of the solution, they either need to create enduring new habits, turning external motivations into internal ones (which is difficult), or they need to sustain their external motivation (which is also difficult)," Patel and his co-authors wrote in the editorial.

Insurers are well-positioned to take advantage of the rise of wearable technology and digital health. In fact, starting this year, Oscar Health is paying all of its members to wear a Misfit Flash to help measure their activity.

However, the authors said, more than 50 percent of people who own a wearable device stop using it; about 33 percent of those stopped using it before six months.

That huge drop-off in use is primarily due to a lack of engagement strategies to compel individuals to use the devices on a long-term basis and actually drive behavior change. That's why it would benefit insurers to devise strategies and incorporate strong programs to motivate their members into using the wearable devices.

For example, insurers' wellness programs could help members form teams, which offer peer support and a sense of accountability, to meet a common goal like walking a certain amount of steps every day.

"Ultimately, it is the engagement strategies--the combinations of individual encouragement, social competition and collaboration, and effective feedback loops--that connect with human behavior."

To learn more:
- read the JAMA editorial

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