Applications for Wellness...and Beyond

by Tim Wyman, The Wyman Group

Mobile apps can help your employees turn their health around… and reduce your claims.

Before he passed away in 1997, columnist Mike Royko, speaking about the emerging Internet, said, “I view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”

Almost 20 years later, Royko was a prolific prognosticator in many regards, but if you can scrape away the muck that seemingly permeates our electronic age, there’s some pretty good stuff out there—including some impressive mobile applications. With your goal of maintaining happy and healthy employees, these apps can help them turn their health around… and subsequently reduce your claims.

Insurance Company Apps
Most major insurance carriers have launched their own mobile apps, and at first, they were generally god-awful—helpful in theory only. That’s not too surprising, given the industry’s well-deserved reputation for lagging behind the rest of the world with regard to progress. But given some time, these applications have become pretty good.

Insurance carriers now offer members the ability to access their online services, which in turn, allows them to track their claims as well as their deductible and out-of-pocket limits for the year. Members can schedule calls from insurance company representatives, find physicians and hospitals, set up email or text alerts, shop for individual coverage, and access general information about their plans, as well as general healthcare information.

The more sophisticated applications allow for electronic member ID cards—no more carrying your physical card in your wallet. Some also provide a telephone link to a 24/7 nurse line, and the ability to view where your claims are in their paying system.

It is nice to see it only took 15 years for insurance carriers to join the 21st century.

Prescription Apps
Personally, I think the mobile applications that companies like Walgreens and CVS have developed are the coolest thing since sliced bread, epitomizing all that can be good in our mobile age. These apps use your phone’s camera to scan the bar code on your prescription bottle and send a refill request automatically to the pharmacy location of your choice. Then, seemingly within minutes, you get an automatic email or text letting your know your prescription is ready to be picked up.

You can also set up pill reminders to pop up on your phone, access a list of your prescriptions and dosages, find a healthcare clinic, create a shopping list, upload photos to print, and access coupons. Even more interesting is the ability to chat with a company representative about your prescriptions, or anything else that comes to mind.

Health & Wellness Apps
There is a retinue of applications that can help you get well—and stay well—in nearly every respect of your life. This is the area where mobile devices can really shine. Given that more than two-thirds of all Americans are classified as either overweight or obese, weight management assistance is critical. One of the best applications out there is the award-winning Lose It! (their exclamation point, not mine).

Lose It! is essentially a calorie counter that takes the difficulty out of counting calories. It allows you to establish a weight loss goal and provides a calorie bank each day so you can meet your goal. You can input more than 500,000 foods and your portions, and even nicer, it has most national restaurant menus saved, so when you do slip up and have that Big Mac, you can chart that, too. When you decide to work out and get rid of those calories, it allows you to input whatever you did, and add those calories to your daily bank. There is a multitude of additional value-adds, including hooking up with workout applications and connecting for peer-to-peer support from others using their application.

Speaking of workout applications, there are more out there than you can shake a stick at. So which ones are the best? Simple answer: The best is the one that gets you off the couch and moving on a daily basis.

The Nike apps are nice because they can connect via Bluetooth with the Nike band that monitors heart rate and intensity. The much-rumored iWatch from Apple is said to integrate with Nike extensively, so we will have to wait and see.

One of the most unique ideas is an application called GymPact. The idea is simple. You determine your goals to exercise more or eat better, and establish how much you are willing to risk, cash-wise, if you fail to meet them. If you do not meet those goals, your credit card is charged the amount you put up. If you do meet them, you get a share from those who did not. Finally, you can get paid to work out! Talk about motivation to go to the gym!

People forget that proper sleep is as important to your health as eating well and exercising regularly. There is a great application called SleepCycle that allows you to establish the latest time you would like to be awakened, and through motion sensors in your phone, it will wake you up while in your lightest sleep cycle—which studies show makes you feel most rested for the day. In addition, by paying attention to your resting time, you can make sure to get the necessary seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

A Cautionary Note
As far as symptom/diagnosis applications like WebMD or Mayo Clinic Online, while well-designed, most experts are weighing in against them. They are mostly concerned with inaccurate diagnoses, and causing people not to see their doctor when they should. At the other end of the spectrum, the hypochondriacs among us are winding up with the Ebola virus every other week, causing themselves way too much anxiety. Leave the diagnosing to the experts.

So, yes, Royko was right to a certain degree. But with a little homework, some trial and evaluation, and a lot of patience, everyone can find mobile devices that fit our hectic schedules, provide good information, and let us meet our goals of living healthy and well. For employers out there, these applications can help your employees keep those health costs to a minimum. It’s in our self-interest to help educate them. iBi