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2017 will usher in a new era of healthcare in America – driven in large part by political, systematic and procedural redirection and, perhaps most significantly, by technological innovation. Last year we saw many health IT innovations take shape, ranging from predictive modeling engines to wearable devices designed to track vitals and provide indispensable insight into a population’s health.

Population health has many definitions which are often pigeonholed to fit a specific market or agenda. Its end goal, however, is unequivocal: to manage the health of a given patient population to improve outcomes and keep costs in check. And without recent advancements in health technology, data aggregation and data analysis, case managers, data scientists and benefits managers alike would not have the tools and actionable intelligence necessary to make lasting improvements to the populations they manage. Wellness programs would not improve a health plan or reduce costs as effectively if case managers were missing crucial data sets of the population. 

Now it’s time to improve on the technologic advancements made in 2016. A new goal arises with a new year. We must not settle, but continue innovating, refining and upgrading the tools used to accomplish health plan goals. With the rise of wearables like Fitbit, wellness programs have begun to incorporate tracking devices into their populations with the idea that they will generate buy-in, improve compliance and monitor health at an individual level, overall population level or by specific disease. The customization is practically limitless. The value of wearables is becoming increasingly clear – and it’s clear that more companies will be looking at ways to optimize the use of wearable devices in 2017.

For example, consider the implementation of wearables in a health-contingent wellness program, which is a wellness program that incentivizes participation and compliance through discounts on premiums or rewards in some other fashion. There are two types of health-contingent plans: activity-only and outcomes-based.

An activity-only wellness program requires that the plan member participate and complete the wellness program activities, such as walking, dieting, exercising, etc. to receive a reward.

An outcomes-based wellness program rewards the plan member based on the outcomes they produce and maintain. For example, smoking cessation or weight loss.

Enter German startup, Bragi, a company that has developed one of the most intriguing tracking devices of the future. Bragi’s “The Dash” wireless headphones are not unlike Fitbit’s technology; they track vitals, calories, and heart rate all while playing your favorite tunes. And, Bragi headphones are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Perhaps though, if we look deeper we’ll find ways to enhance their value within a health-contingent wellness plan that outweighs their cost. Consider a few points of inquiry.

How do earphones like these effect wellness program participation?

Where do the cost and value meet?

Instead of offering premium reductions, as is often the case in health-contingent wellness programs, employers could use the device as incentive. For example, employers could offer the Fitbit and/or Bragi headphones to employees who reach a health milestone, or, after they have sustained a milestone for a specified length of time. This would allow employers to supplant the premium discount with a quality device all while encouraging participation and compliance. Additionally, a higher quality device like a Fitbit or Bragi headphones can track and report data more effectively – data that case managers could then readily turn into actionable steps. Three benefits in one: better data, better buy-in, better health/savings. There are many applications to consider as we work to optimize the use of these devices within a population health framework. In 2017 we look forward to innovating and promoting technology and approaches that will advance both the art and science of population health.

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