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Health care engagement technology grows, but opportunities missed

Health care engagement technology grows, but opportunities missed

More employers are turning to games and contests, mobile applications and social media to drive health care engagement among their workforces, according to research compiled by New York-based Buck Consultants L.L.C.

However, issues such as lagging support from senior management, privacy concerns and IT infrastructure challenges continue to undermine widespread adoption of emerging health engagement tech solutions, Buck researchers said Monday during a presentation at the WorldatWork Total Rewards 2013 Conference and Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Additionally, researchers said, few employers have taken the necessary steps to align their adoption of emerging health engagement technologies with their employees' communication preferences, and even fewer have formally evaluated the technologies' bottom-line value.

“That can be a real missed opportunity,” said Barry Hall, a Boston-based principal and innovation leader at Buck Consultants. “If you're trying to make a decision on whether to adopt a gamification, social media or mobile app strategy, it might be good to first find out from your workforce what their preferences actually are.”

Citing the results of a study conducted jointly by Buck Consultants and WorldatWork, researchers said 65% of employers have done little or no assessment of their employees' preferences regarding benefit communication technologies.

Between 79% and 89% of employers have not yet measured their tech initiative's return on investment, in most cases because their adoptions were too recent to generate an accurate measurement, researchers said.

“For a lot of employers, it's still too early in the process to say what's working and what isn't, and they're going to need more time to do that,” said Ruth Hunt, a Minneapolis-based benefit communications principal at Buck Consultants.


According to Buck's study, published in February, 62% of employers have implemented one or more “gamification” strategies including online games; contests and game-like features in health care; and wellness programs such as lotteries, raffles and quizzes to promote more active engagement in health management initiatives.

Another 31% of employers polled in Buck's survey said they are likely to adopt at least one gamification strategy in their health management communications within the next year, researchers said.

Employers' use of social media platforms to boost employees' interest in managing their health is expected to grow as well. Half of employers surveyed said they already use internal or external social networks to drive health engagement, while 37% said they likely will do so within a year.

“You can start to see why the adoption curve has been so slow, and we really do need to start overcoming some of these barriers,” Ms. Hunt said.

Although engagement-oriented smartphone and tablet applications showed the lowest level of adoption to date among the technologies examined in the study, more employers said they are considering adding mobile technology elements to their communication models within the next three years than did employers considering gamification or social media.

Across all three technologies, employers cited higher budget priorities, lack of buy-in and support from senior management, insufficient return-on-investment data and concerns over patient confidentiality and information security as the most common “big barriers” to implementation of emerging health engagement technologies.