September 25, 2017
How are your eating habits? Do you cook at home with fresh ingredients and keep the butter content to a minimum? Or, do you grab take out most nights? Or, is it a complicated mixture of several dining habits?
For many people, it is the latter option. This can make it difficult to track how healthy or unhealthy their eating habits are. Not to mention other lifestyle choices such as how much or little a person sleeps and how often they visit a gym.
And in turn, this makes it difficult to pinpoint how much those individual decisions are impacting their health and healthcare costs.
We know that lifestyle affects health, but putting actual dollar amounts on that can be tricky. Luckily, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the wellness field have been converging in recent years, so that dollar amount might not be so tricky after all with the right tools.
But how is IoT helping identify lifestyle costs?
First, let’s look at what we mean by lifestyle costs.
We all make tiny decisions every day that affect our health. Cooking at home versus ordering take out. Heading to the gym versus putting it off until tomorrow. Going to the doctor when you feel a twinge in your abdomen versus waiting to see if it gets worse.
These all feel like very personal decisions with no farther reaching consequences, but if we actually look at societal health trends, a larger pattern start to emerge.
Obesity is the big one. The high rate of prescription drug usage is another. These are things which can be controlled, but top-down healthcare changes can only do so much because these and similar problems all start with small decisions made by individuals on a daily basis.
Data on overarching trends is important, but to really bring about change, data needs to be far more granular. This is where wearable tech and wellness apps come in.
For data to be useful, we need both quantity and quality. It also needs to be simple enough to encourage individuals to be engaged on daily, if not per-minute, basis.
1) Where it comes from
Wearable technology has blown up in recent years. It’s a product of IoT, and it helps people track a variety of things, including calories burned, hours slept, and heart rate.
These devices are often tied to wellness apps that help wearers get more out of the raw data. Or, people can opt to use apps on their own to track food intake and exercise patterns.
There are even applications like BWell, which rewards users for making good choices. This helps individuals stick to the data gathering and actually become engaged in their own well-being.
2) How it helps
This merger of the wellness field with the tech field has created an IoMe, or Internet of Me. Individuals are capable of tracking their own data to make better choices and thus potentially lower their healthcare costs.
But there’s a way that employers (and others heavily invested in wider healthcare costs) can make this data work for them too. Aside from the overhead costs of providing employee healthcare plans, there are other costs for poor lifestyle choices. For instance, employees who don’t eat well or exercise much tend to become ill more often.
Sometimes, these issues are on an individual basis, but sometimes they can be caused by larger factors that a company can take action to mitigate.
With data, an employer may realize that a large portion of their workforce is overweight or obese, which leads to higher cost health plans, but they may also be able to discover the causes of the obesity. Say it’s a lower income workforce, maybe it’s difficult for them to buy healthy food options regularly. Or, if it’s a high stress field or there are long work hours, perhaps it’s just too tiring to pursue healthier cooking options.
Once the cause is known, an employer can implement new programs to help. Continuing with the previous example, the company could subsidize a meal-delivery program with healthier options. This would help with the systemic obesity problems and lower the costs of their healthcare plan over time.
The applications for this data still haven’t been fully explored, but as the IoT/IoMe match up gains prominence, it will continue to drive real wellness gains.
Daily decisions have a huge impact on healthcare costs. With data from wearable tech and apps, individuals and employers can discover trends that unnecessarily hike up these costs.
By being more engaged with their personal lifestyle choices, individuals can take charge of their own health and keep a few more dollars in their pocket.
This post is based on a podcast interview with Jim Campbell from BWell, Inc. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Healthcare Simplified.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.