Wellbeing apps and wearables as a crucial business risk tool

A few weeks ago I headed over to the wonderful, newly-moved-in, Design Museum in West London to have a look at up and coming wellbeing digital devices and wearables. These highly innovative, clever products had all been brought together as part of the third annual Axa PPP Health Tech & You Awards.

What struck me most of all, was how many free apps there are that can help employees manage their health in the workplace. Clever, focussed ideas that employers could point employees to as part of a wellbeing strategy.

One, called MyAsthma, is able to alert asthma sufferers when they are at risk of an attack, by collating all the relevant data from a myriad of sources such as weather and pollen reports to personal triggers and workplace risks. A great option for organisations which may have workspaces that create dust or other allergens.

Cupris Health also caught my eye (and ears). It has two inexpensive medical lenses that attach to the mobile phone that can be used for remote eye or ear examinations. So ideal for workers on, say oil platforms, to be checked and diagnosed by a specialist back on shore. This means most conditions can be dealt with on the rig.

The developers told me that some employers are looking at offering these to employees who are parents. This is so the parents can avoid taking children into the GP for every worry, but instead deal with it from home and email the images over to the GP for diagnosis. This way only vital cases need to see the GP in person, but parents’ natural worries are calmed with minimal fuss.

It may not suit all but it's ideal for some

Having a myriad of apps (free or not) and wearable devices won’t suit every employer. In fact one of the most common complaints I hear from benefits professionals is how painful it is to deal with so many different digital options.

But they can be ideal for others, which is why the REBA/Punter Southall Health & protection Employee Wellbeing Research 2017 found that use of health and wellbeing apps on smartphones by employers grew 112% in the previous 12 months, and are expected to be the second fastest growing workplace wellbeing initiative over the next few years.

I am a big fan of wellbeing apps myself, but I can understand why so many people are wary of letting employers and insurers have all their data. There is a fear of discrimination be it on the pricing of health cover, or judging of performance at work linked to health data. Both are valid fears unless all involved set strict protocols of what is and is not appropriate.

Using wellbeing apps and wearables for prevention

However, a convincing counter argument is that such apps and devices are about prevention. Gordon Henderson, marketing and innovation director at Axa PPP Healthcare, points out: “The insurance industry can profit from keeping people healthy.” Treating awful health outcomes is significantly more expensive than preventing them.

The same can be said for employers. Wouldn’t you want to be sure that you knew if any of your staff were at risk of a heart attack? Or diabetes? Or extreme anxiety? And so on. If you had services and benefits in place to be able to intervene months or years in advance, you could then mitigate the risk to your organisation.

In this way, digital devices are heading towards becoming a crucial business risk tool. But only if they support a culture of caring and not if they are misused to simply treat people like finely tuned cogs in a machine, to be discarded when they don’t work quite so well.

We need to tread this fine and emerging line carefully.

To learn, discuss and network about wellbeing strategies, attend the Employee Wellbeing Congress on 22 June 2017 in London.

Debi O'Donovan is director of REBA.



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