Technology, data analytics transform wellness programs

As employee wellness programs have evolved beyond a cost-control measure to become more ingrained in corporate culture, technology and data analytics are taking on a larger role.

The corporate wellness industry has become a far more diverse market, leaving health plans to decide whether to develop their own wellness program, contract with a vendor or acquire an existing wellness program, according to a study in Health Affairs. Based on interviews with wellness program representatives, researchers from the University of Minnesota noted that more established players in the wellness program market are competing with tech-heavy newcomers that offer the appeal of health gadgets and mobile apps.

But the push towards technology is forcing entrenched players to invest in software engineers and data integrators to incorporate more substantial IT platforms. Employees expect access to interactive interfaces that track various aspects of their health, while employers use databases to look at overall health trends among employees.

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“Interviewees suggested that one of the most important areas of expertise required today is advanced data analytics, used to support reporting and evaluation—which are often customized for the client,” the authors wrote.

Although independent entities like Fitbit have launched their own corporate wellness program, health plans have the advantage of offering a cheaper price point by bundling wellness programs into a broader benefits package and integrating data from EHRs and administrative claims data to offer a more comprehensive health outlook.

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One area that wellness programs have yet to figure out: wearables. Although wellness program executives pointed to the strong interest in wearable technology, most have not determined how to best integrate wearables into their program.

Concerns surrounding the use of wearable technology in wellness programs were echoed in a separate Health Affairs study that acknowledged the promise of cutting edge technology on population health, but determined there was little evidence of substantial health improvements.

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Payers like Aetna and UnitedHealth have integrated wearable technology into their wellness programs, but recent studies have questioned whether wearable technology can help users lose weight or increase physical activity.