Over the last decade, wearable technology has undergone a revolution, with the health implications of the devices changing lives. That has only amplified in recent years, and Vitality Group CIO Sean Katz continues to see those advances positively impact more and more people. The opportunities are growing rapidly as wearable tech continues to grow from a few people using pedometers to massive numbers of people carrying devices that can track an enormous amount of data. “A number of different efforts are emerging, all of which seek to help people improve their physical, mental, and financial health—and more,” Katz explains. “Vitality can help bring people to those programs and enhance engagement by using our experiences in leveraging incentives.”
As a division of South Africa-based insurance provider Discovery, The Vitality Group aims to produce data-driven, personalized technology approaches to improve users’ lives. Through a mobile app, users are able to log exercise, track steps, complete challenges, and more. In addition to providing ways in which users can lead healthier lives, they’ve teamed with organizations to offer their employees other types of incentives. The recently launched the Vitality Active Rewards program, which offers clients an Apple Watch for $25 if they complete monthly fitness goals. The wearable tech in this case acts both as a tool for tracking health data and an incentive for healthy activity. “The scientific evidence suggests that devices can improve physical activity simply by providing individuals with a daily target and feedback,” Katz says. “Discovery piloted the program in South Africa and the launch exceeded all of our expectations, with more than 200,000 members already involved in the Active Rewards program.”
The efforts to incentivize healthy living go far beyond counting steps. Recently, companies have begun rewarding employees for activities such as purchasing healthy groceries and eating well, offering discounts at the supermarket or even cash back. New research has also shown that this sort of incentive-based program can lead to real results, particularly in smoking cessation and cholesterol control. “Behavioral economics is a rapidly evolving field of research, so we are still learning about how to apply them in ways that maximize improvements in health,” Katz notes.
There has been some brushback on this sort of program, mostly from individuals concerned about corporations collecting this amount of data. The Vitality Group is fully compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and maintains complete privacy and security. More to the point, though, Katz insists that everything is done solely for improving the health of their clients. “Businesses must take a proactive stance on addressing the ethical, legal, and social concerns associated with the technology,” he notes. “Otherwise, users will simply abandon the devices and no improvements in health will be realized.” Whether a user needs to be convinced to participate by financial incentives, rewards, or a longer life, Katz and the Vitality Group want to do whatever they can to build a healthier world.