There's no denying it. Connected health, which relies on technology to provide health care remotely, is a growing reality. Mobile technologies allow users to access a wider range of services and better self-manage their care; however, they're only part of the solution.

“Technology is a tool, not a panacea,” explains Interactive Health Chief Information Officer Tim Hardy. “We must be careful about having an over-reliance on technology. The wave of new apps and technology can cause us to think that the technology alone will cause individuals to make changes. Utilizing technology to enable individuals  and make it easier to make change is important, but it must go beyond that. Having a variety of modalities to deliver those resources is also extremely important.”

Incorporating emerging technologies linked to wellness programs and health coaches, for example, can result in improved productivity, less absenteeism and reduced health care costs. Identifying an individual's health risk is crucial as part of an overall strategy, along with helping him or her understand those risks and assisting the employee in making the necessary change.

Personalization, connectivity and accessibility

Hardy believes there needs to be a balance between accessibility of employees' information, personalization of recommendations based on that information and connectivity. He also says it's important not to create a “one size fits all” environment. If that occurs, someone will be left out.

“Making change is a very personal thing. Everyone decides to make change and enact change in different ways. The objective of most health care technologies is to enable individuals to understand their health and take action regarding their health information. Personalization leads to greater engagement and interaction with their own health, and allows better communication with other health care professionals or specialists.

“Different people prefer different tools to help them. Some may like using their smartphone, while others might want to read a book. It's about having a balanced approach.”

“‘...information is only going to help if one knows how to interpret and then have ideas on how to use the data to meet a goal.’”

Security of information

Hardy points out that with increased accessibility and connectivity comes the need for greater security.

“There must be a higher and higher premium on security of information. Without question, there absolutely have to be strong security controls, encryption, etc. Providers of technology must understand they're holding these individuals' personal health information, and they have to regard it as such. It's crucial to understand this, and make sure all safeguards are in place.”

According to Rose Stanley, senior practice leader at the nonprofit human resources association WorldatWork, “We live in a world where security concerns are real, and we must go into that with that knowledge. Having very reputable organizations that are either the ones that created the technology and/or the organizations offering the technology for use to their employees is paramount. However, there are no guarantees. Diligence and constant protection of privacy should be a mainstay of any strategy.”

What's available

Says Stanley, “Between an ever-changing landscape of wearables, mobile applicability and social interaction, we can use technology to provide individual feedback, a means to see that feedback via many different types of mobile devices and to share, encourage and challenge each other through competitions or our own personal goals."

There are many forms of wearable technology that allow individuals to monitor steps, sleep, heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, weight and BMI.

“There are a plethora of apps that collect a lot of this data, but one thing that is important to remember is that information is only going to help if one knows how to interpret and then have ideas on how to use the data to meet a goal. There is a lot of technology that is becoming more mainstream such as telemedicine, electronic records, virtual experiences, even surgeries, that will only continue to advance and improve.”

Looking ahead

Stanley says using some of this technology to encourage more participation is not only helpful, but if done well, can bring about more engagement and collaboration among peers and/or users.

“It can be a means to connect people in like-minded situations when they can discover ways of dealing with their goals that they may not have thought of and build camaraderie."

She adds, “Make it fun, engaging and rewarding. And do your homework. There is a lot out there, and many more on the horizon. Do what works best for your demographics, and include your employees in helping determine what will work for them.”