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The Power of Wearables:
Driving Engagement in Well-Being Programs

Next time you’re on the subway or waiting in line, notice how many people are wearing some kind of tracking device on their wrist. Whether it’s an Apple Watch, Fitbit, or Garmin, “wearables” remain incredibly popular with consumers. Critics say devices don’t really impact health and often wind up stashed in a drawer. While that may be true for some individual users, we’ve found that devices are a powerful way to drive engagement in well-being programs.

Device users have higher participation rates.

The HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard found that using devices to monitor activity or other health measures led to higher participation rates in health assessments (55% vs. 47%), biometric screenings (51% vs. 48%), and interactive health coaching programs (37% vs. 23%) compared to organizations that reported not using them. 1

Our own data backs up the HERO scorecard. We looked at our user population between 2016 and 2018. In addition to a 152% increase in device usage among our employer population, we noticed that device users:

  • Are more likely to use the WebMD portal. In fact, they averaged 10 times as many visits to our website than users with no device. They are logging on to do things like see their step challenge rank or goal progress. When we looked specifically at users with a Fitbit, the average site visits in a six-month period before and after Fitbit registration tripled.
  • Take advantage of more WebMD offerings. Device users navigate through about five WebMD solutions per year. This may include digital coaching, trackers, challenges, personal health record, and rewards. Users without a registered device typically engage with just one product per year.
  • Engage in coaching more than non-device users. We saw 20% higher engagement in our coaching solutions over the period of device users.
  • Set and achieve more digital coaching goals. Device users typically set three to four goals in our Digital Health Assistant and have a ten times greater rate of achievement.

Devices can supercharge a well-being program.

A device is the perfect complement to a well-being program. Devices provide immediate reinforcement and feedback, while continually personalizing and encouraging individuals along their wellness journey. When users receive data about their health on a regular basis they are intrinsically motivated to continue. And, key metrics like sleep, activity, and steps automatically sync with the WebMD platform, making the experience seamless and easy.

Devices make good incentives.

We’ve found that offering devices as an incentive for participation in a well-being program is an effective way to increase engagement and investment for the long-term. While there may be an immediate uptick in participation when a user population receives a gift card for signing up, a device encourages sustained participation in the program that can lead to long-term changes in health.

Devices can also help increase participation in team-based wellness challenges like The Invitational, a popular WebMD steps challenge. In 2018 alone, we saw that 53% of device users eligible to participate joined The Invitational vs. only 6% participation for users without a device. Of those who participated, 73% of users who wore a device completed the five-week challenge compared to only 49% of non-device participants. Programs like The Invitational can really boost employee engagement and create a culture of health, so having a high participation rate is key.

Devices can change behavior.

While device users are clearly more engaged in well-being programs, what impact does the device have on behavior change? Over the course of the three years, we did see improvement among users who indicated they had a poor diet and low physical activity. About 7% reported improving their diet and 3% reported increasing their physical activity levels.

It’s also important to consider the fact that one healthy lifestyle change—like walking more—can lead to other benefits. When an individual takes up walking, he or she will likely start to feel healthier, may start sleeping better, have more energy, and experience more positivity. These small changes could result in an individual getting off blood pressure medication or even reversing diabetes, which are great long-term results.

The future of wearables is definitely bright. No longer just for tracking steps or sleep, we are starting to see wearables expand their capabilities to help users track medication, manage mood, and even help with diabetes and blood pressure management. All of this bodes well for the well-being industry where we can help users integrate all that personalized data in one place and make real progress toward better health.

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