Mobile, wearable, mHealth monitoring devices are a key element of many employer fitness programs and clinical laboratories can play an important role in their success


For years Dark Daily has encouraged clinical laboratories to get involved in corporate wellness programs as a way to support their local communities and increase revenues. Now, leveraging the popularity of mobile health (mHealth) wearable devices, UnitedHealthcare (UHC) has found a new way to incentivize employees participating in the insurer’s Motion walking program. UHC is offering free Apple Watches to employees willing to meet or exceed certain fitness goals.

This is the latest wrinkle in a well-established trend of incentivizing beneficiaries to meet healthcare goals, such as stopping smoking, losing weight, reducing cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure.

It’s an intriguing gamble by UHC and presents another opportunity for medical laboratories that are equipped to monitor and validate participants’ progress and physical conditions.

How to Get a Free Apple Watch and FIT at the Same Time

CNBC reported that UHC’s Motion program participants number in the hundreds of thousands. And, according to a UHC news release, they can earn cash rewards up to $1,000 per year. The idea is that participants pay off the cost of their “free” Apple Watch one day at a time by achieving activity goals set in UHC’s FIT tracking method. Those goals include:

  • Frequency: 500 steps in seven minutes; six times a day, at least one hour apart;
  • Intensity: 3,000 steps in 30 minutes; and,
  • Tenacity: 10,000 steps in one day.
“UnitedHealthcare Motion is part of our consumer-focused strategy that is driving toward a simple, integrated, mobile-centric ecosystem that delivers value to consumers,” said Steve Nelson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, in a news release. “Smartwatches and activity trackers stand alongside transparency in physician selection and medical costs, easy virtual visits with healthcare professionals, and digital coaching and online wellness programs, all of which are designed to support consumers in enhancing their health and improving how they navigate the healthcare system.” Clinical laboratories play a key role in this healthcare strategy. (Graphic copyright: UnitedHealthcare.)

Though hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are eligible to participate in UHC’s Motion program through their employers, only 45% of those eligible have enrolled in Motion, Fox Business reported.

UHC hopes the offer of a free Apple Watch (which has applications to track minutes of exercise, a heart rate monitor, and more) will encourage people to sign up and then progress toward the Motion program’s FIT goals.

As people meet these goals, they earn $4/day toward the cost of the Apple Watch. Participants, who do not take enough steps in a six-month period could be required to repay a percentage of the cost of the smartwatch.

Motion participants who already own an Apple Watch can still earn up to $1,000 per year in cash rewards for achieving the FIT goals.   

“UnitedHealthcare Motion’s success affirms that wearables can play an important role in helping people enhance their well-being and supporting and motivating them to stay engaged in their health,” said Rebecca Madsen, Chief Consumer Officer of UnitedHealthcare, in the UHC news release. (Photo copyright: University of Pennsylvania.)

Impact of mHealth Programs/Technology Not Clear

Chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, annually cost the US healthcare system $190 billion and employers $126 billion in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, some researchers say it’s too early for mHealth wearables, medication apps, physician virtual engagement, and other digital tools (many launched within the past five to seven years) to effect key indicators, such as obesity, life expectancy, and smoking cessation.

“Some of the benefits of these new tools won’t be realized for a long time. It’s really hard to tease out the impact of digital health. Maybe we’re helping people, but we’re not detecting it,” James Murphy, MD, Associate Professor, University of California San Diego Health and radiation oncologist, told CNBC.

Nevertheless, it behooves medical laboratories to develop procedures for analyzing and reporting data that could impact people who use wearable mHealth devices to participate in employer wellness programs.

For example, labs could contact insurance companies with information about biomarkers that provide views into an individual’s progress toward personal health goals.

Data-driven recommendations from medical laboratories about tests for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes will likely be welcomed by payers. 

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

A Giant Insurer is Offering Free Apple Watches to Customers Who Meet Walking Goals

UnitedHealthcare Offer Provides Free Apple Watch Series 3 if Customers Exercise Daily

UnitedHealth Offering Americans Free Apple Watch if They Do This

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UnitedHealthcare Helps People Be More Active with Apple Watch

Fulfilling Digital Health’s Promise

Chronic Disease Costs

Billions are Pouring into Digital Health, but Americans are Still Getting Sicker and Dying Younger

Study Reveals Surprises in How Healthcare Consumers Respond to Wellness Programs and Incentives, Some of Which Utilize Clinical Laboratory Tests as Benchmarks