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Digital devices boost wellness programs

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Online diet and fitness tracking devices and mobile applications are becoming increasingly prevalent in employers’ workplace wellness programs, as a growing volume of surveys and case studies link personalization and portability with greater employee engagement in managing their health.

After several years of relatively stagnant participation levels in its wellness program, TwinStar Credit Union partnered with Portland, Oregon-based wellness technology and services provider Hubbub Health to revamp the program by incorporating a broad selection of web and mobile enabled fitness, nutrition and stress management challenges, as well as a centralized online portal through which employees could track their own progress toward personal health goals and interact with other program participants.

“It appealed to a much greater audience than what we had previously been doing,” said Nicole Colgan, TwinStar’s Olympia, Washington-based director of human resources and employee development. “It gave everyone an opportunity to find some challenge that seems reasonable for them, or that encourages them to do something that they know they ought to be doing, but needed something to push them to do it.”

Over the next few years, workplace wellness experts say they expect employers’ use of mobile technology to drive engagement in their health management programs, especially given the expanding availability of wearable health and fitness devices.

“One thing that’s great about these wearable technologies is that they’re very engaging,” said Seth Serxner, the San Francisco-based chief health officer at Optum Inc. “Another benefit is that these devices are going to feed a tremendous amount of data to the vendors and providers, which will improve the analytics piece of these programs and help employers stay relevant in their wellness communications and programming.”

However, Mr. Serxner said, employers considering wearable technology as a method of tracking or monitoring their employees’ participation and/or performance in wellness activities must be cognizant of potential data loss or theft.

“Employees and their families were already concerned about data privacy and confidentiality regarding wellness programs, and they have been for years,” Mr. Serxner said. “With the introduction of mobile and wearable technologies, I think we’re going to have to have a lot of discussions about privacy and confidentiality.”