During a very intense professional sports playoff game, a commentator glanced at his smart watch and noticed his heart rate was highly elevated. In that teachable moment, he committed to get his health under better control because he wasn’t going to stop attending stress-inducing sporting events.
In “Can My Smartphone Make Me Healthier?” (Benefits Quarterly, Fourth Quarter 2017), we argue that smartphones and other mobile devices can – if the user selects, appropriately uses and sustains use of the tool and application, to achieve lasting results. Therein lies the rub – using the solution for lasting behavior change.
There’s no shortage of mobile devices – IHS Technology predicts growth from 23 million in 2011 to 75.5 million by the end of 2018.1 Increasingly, wearable sensors are being built directly into smartphones and smart watches, and the numbers of health-related apps continue to multiply. Consumer demand is strong but significant room remains to connect individuals to device-based solutions that make it much easier to stay healthy or better manage health conditions.
Top players such as Apple and Microsoft, Fitbit and Garmin, plus various medical manufacturers as well as many technology start-ups are developing related devices and apps.
For example, portable EKG readers that work with smartphones have been available for some time, allowing users to check their heart’s electrical activity by using a separate device. Newer technology such as the KardiaBand for Apple watches, from AliveCor, continuously measures heart rate every five seconds right on one’s wrist – based not on generic standards, but personalized to the user. Data can be forwarded to the doctor, reducing unnecessary doctor visits. And the immediate notification lets the user know whether it’s just a minor surge in heart rate or a “life or death” situation. 2
Many app-based solutions help users manage key health metrics and related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, and more. Some monitor fertility while others help monitor pregnancy. Even basic solutions such as medication and dosage reminders can make a dramatic difference in health, given that half of U.S. patients stop taking their medications within one year of being prescribed. 3 Or carriers’ provider-finder apps can better promote decision-support research based on cost and quality metrics, or reduce unnecessary use of the ER. In one study, HIV patients using a mobile app were 2.9 times more likely to be adherent to treatment. 4
Many have found apps helpful in promoting greater physical activity and healthier eating, as well as weight loss. And while it’s early in their use, apps to support mindfulness and resilience have been reported as helping some users better manage stress and the related comorbidities such as depression. Some apps also help with financial health, from tracking spending to better budgeting – important to stress reduction and mental/emotional health.
Employers can play a role in promoting smart use of smart devices to help enhance their employees’ health:
- Analyze data to identify the top health challenges in the workforce, so as to prioritize and target top needs and opportunities
- Conduct an inventory of existing partners’ available applications and available alternatives, with a “mobile first” priority
- Validate effectiveness and identify mobile solutions that will overcome classic barriers to healthy behaviors change – convenience and access, ease of use (intuitive), motivational, and sustainability
- Provide periodic communication to promote opportunities, including targeted communication for messaging on tools relevant to given individuals – using technology and partner/provider support for confidentiality
So the question remains, are you smarter than your smartphone? It likely comes down to how you use your smartphone – or how your smartphone uses you. Those who can identify the right apps/features for their health needs, sustain ongoing use, and in turn score health improvements are the smart ones. That’s true for both individuals who use the devices and for the employers who can achieve organizational health behavioral change from these ever-increasing mobile solutions.