More than half (56%) of employer respondents are using mobile apps and associated technologies to promote employee health engagement, according to a new study.

The biannual Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing study, by Xerox HR Services in conjunction with National Business Group on Health, polled more than 200 employers, 70% of whom are multinational organizations.

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It found that mobile technology is the largest growth area since the study’s 2013 findings, which saw just a 16% mobile usage.

In relation to mobile technology, the survey found:

  • 51% use mobile apps for health-care benefits, up from 32% in 2013.
  • 36% may add this technology within the next three years.
  • Only 15% use texting or SMS for health or financial-related messaging.
  • Mobile technology is the highest priority for senior management, at 32%.

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Though the survey found that 31% of organizations use gamification, when third-party providers are included, it tops the list of technologies used. Three-quarters (74%) use contests, such as weight loss or walking competitions, with 17% are considering adopting them over the next few years.

More than half (52%) of respondents incorporate game-like features in wellbeing resources and another 30% expect to do so in the next three years.

Reflecting the need for results-driven data, activity tracking is now used by 37% of respondents with another 37% planning to adopt the technology in the coming years.

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“Measuring the impact of technology-supported wellness programs remains challenging for employers, particularly where direct cause and effect cannot be quantified,” said Scot Marcotte, client technology leader at Xerox HR Services.

“Wearable sensors offer an opportunity for better measurement, but adoption of work-sponsored wearable usage has been slow due to a variety of reasons, including cost of the technology and privacy concerns.”

According to the survey, the greatest barrier preventing organizations from using these new technologies is competition from higher-priority issues in their budgets. Concerns around confidentiality and privacy issues were also identified by more than 30% of respondents as barriers across all categories, particularly for social media.

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“Changes in benefit program design increasingly require individuals to take personal responsibility for their wellbeing,” said Karen Marlo, vice president of the National Business Group on Health.

“New technology, such as wearables, provides employers with an opportunity to motivate and empower employees to take an active role in their own healthcare experience. The key for employers is identifying programs that provide both individualized support and measurable results for employee wellbeing, working to positively impact health and wealth.”

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