A group of nurses recently strapped on Fitbits to join a pilot program of the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and the preliminary results are getting attention. Under the purview of the VA’s Innovators Network (INET), the initiative tasked 50 nurses with wearing Fitbits during their daily routines while working within the Orlando VA Health Care System (OVAHCS). And while the year-long program only got underway last December, the impact that the wearables are having on the nurses is already noteworthy.
What’s changed? Nurse call-outs have reduced, for one, with OVAHCS reporting that they’re better staffed with nurses who are healthier and more well-rested than ever before. That’s not a big surprise given that the Fitbit-integrated program combines both physical exercise — such as stretching and walking — and a focus on mental wellbeing with activities including aroma therapy and adult coloring. According to Nurse Manager Candace McNulty, there’s been an 8% increase in overall physical activity among the nurses, data that’s recorded by the Fitbit individualized dashboards.
But this appears to be a case where Aristotle’s maxim of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts rings true. Higher levels of personal physical fitness and individual improved senses of mental wellbeing are just part of the equation; overall morale has improved with the integration of the program. McNulty says they’re seeing “stronger bonds and relationships form between coworkers” and positive engagement in challenges among the staff. Nursing Assistant Makayla Maggi adds, “In the past, if I had forgotten to bring something important with me to a patient’s room, I would go straight to a negative place…Now, I look at those situations as opportunities to get in additional steps to beat my coworkers in that day’s step challenge.”
Fitbit has a wider reach within the veteran community that extends beyond the OVAHCS program; last year, the VA contracted with Fitbit to give 10,000 veterans, VA staff, and caregivers free one-year memberships to Fitbit Premium. The plan has hundreds of workouts, and a wide range of health and wellness features, including stress and sleep insights, heart rate and blood glucose tools, and one-on-one assistance from coaches and healthcare professionals. Outreach the private sector is even greater, as Fitbit says they’re working with over 1,500 companies and around 100 health plans with a focus on nutrition, sleep, activity, and mental wellbeing.
So maybe some workplaces have been looking at things the wrong way. Perhaps instead of Casual Fridays, awarding Employee of the Month, inducing sugar highs with doughnuts and other attempts to boost morale, some engagement with wearables is the way to go.