Here at Health Tech Insider, we frequently beat the drum of “earlier treatment, better outcomes, and lower healthcare costs” for wearable Health Tech devices. Even so, we’re right in line with C-level corporate executives who say, “Really? Prove it!” That’s why we’re spend a lot of time covering scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of wearables and other digital health products and systems. If the wearables industry is going to make the transition from an expensive luxury to a commonplace essential, we need hard, reliable numbers. And I’m glad to say that the mountains of evidence continue to pile up.
Here’s the latest exhibit: “Wearable Technology: Unlocking ROI of Workplace Wellness” from Springbuk. This report covers a retrospective analysis of three years of data from an unnamed “self-insured employer” with more than 20,000 employees. The company made Fitbit devices available at a discount to employees who wanted to participate, and nearly 1,000 took advantage of the offer. These subjects were matched up with about 1,800 fellow workers who matched based on a variety of factors including age, gender, and health history.
The results of the analysis were striking. The employees who opted into the wearables program cost their employers more than $1,100 less per year than the control group: a 25% reduction. The bulk of the gain came from those employees who were less active, based on their daily step count; their health claims costs were cut in half.
These savings add up to more than $1 million for this case study, which is significant when you consider that less than 5% of the company workforce participated in the program. If all large companies could save $1,000 per year on healthcare costs for their employees, we could see a massive impact on healthcare costs very quickly.
Indicative, but the fact that participants self-selected by opting to purchase the discounted Fitbits contaminates the sample somewhat.
If employees had been randomly selected to receive the Fitbit, then matched with a corresponding control group this study would have been much more useful.
Steve, you make a good point. However, as I pointed out in the post, “These subjects were matched up with about 1,800 fellow workers who matched based on a variety of factors including age, gender, and health history.” There was a control group as you suggest. If you’re interested, I encourage you to follow the link to the source document, which provides a lot more detail about the study and its methodology. One aspect that I like is that it was a retrospective analysis; they looked back at what had already happened as a matter of record, which means that observing could not alter the outcomes. I’ll grant that the study has plenty of flaws, not the least of which is that they probably didn’t measure what they thought they were measuring (would a fitness program without the Fitbit have worked as well?), but there’s enough meat on the bones to make it worth a look at the results.
Alfred Poor, Editor
Thanks Alfred. I will look up the source document as you suggested. I suppose my point was that while the sample group matched with the control group on factors such as age, gender and health history, the distinguishing feature between the groups was that one group chose to buy Fitbits and the other didn’t. The interest in the Fitbit is likely to be indicative of an interest in health, which may also have manifested in other choices towards a healthy lifestyle – with or without the Fitbit ‘intervention’.
Granted my comment was clumsily worded – the point was not so much about the control group, it was more about how the results would have been more robust had the employees been randomly selected to receive a Fitbit rather than opting to buy one.
As you say, still plenty of meat on the bones to make it a study of interest.
I share your concern about the self-selecting nature of the test group. It may well be that the test is measuring the effect of motivation rather than the effect of the wellness program. But I expect that there will be plenty of future studies to shed more light on the influencing factors in situations like this one.
The entire study is fatally flawed — not even arguable https://theysaidwhat.net/2017/06/06/did-fitbit-just-do-something-um-illegal/
The link that presumably provides the “smoking gun” in the article is broken, so I don’t understand what the details are of your complaint. Are you disputing the claim that the subject company saved on healthcare costs from the test group subjects?
Alfred Poor, Editor