Apple is in the process of establishing a network of clinics near its California headquarters to provide primary health care services to its employees, CNBC reports:
This new primary care group — a group of clinical staff that is run independently from Apple but is dedicated to Apple employees — will initially only serve Apple’s employees in Santa Clara County, where its headquarters are located. Initially, it has two clinics in the county. Development appears to be well underway.
The initiative, called AC Wellness, will “offer a unique concierge-like healthcare experience for employees and their dependents,” according to its website. In addition to health care professionals, AC Wellness is hiring designers and analysts to help build and implement a preventive and behavioral health program, according to CNBC.
Part of the rationale for this project is undoubtedly to better manage health care costs at Apple, which has thousands of employees in California and 123,000 worldwide. The clinics appear to have a secondary purpose, however, as proving grounds for Apple’s consumer-facing health products:
The wearable technology company Fitbit, known for its ubiquitous fitness-tracking bracelets, announced on Tuesday that it was acquiring Twine Health, a cloud-based health coaching platform designed to help employers manage chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension in the workplace and aid employees in lifestyle changes such as weight loss and smoking cessation. The company describes the move as an expansion into the workplace wellness space:
With this acquisition, Fitbit further extends its reach into healthcare and lays the foundation to expand its offerings to health plans, health systems and self-insured employers, while creating opportunities to increase subscription-based revenue. The acquisition will combine the power of the Fitbit platform to drive lasting behavior change with Twine Health’s clinical expertise and proven ability to help patients better manage their care through a highly scalable platform and coaching model. In the longer term, Fitbit will have the opportunity to extend the benefits of the Twine platform to its more than 25 million users and expand into new condition areas.
As the leading manufacturer of fitness tracking devices, Fitbit was already a significant figure in the growing drive to incorporate these technologies into workplace wellness programs by collecting employee health and fitness data and using it to target interventions. The company has been sharpening its focus on this market for some time now, Paul Sawers observes at VentureBeat:
The online mattress manufacturer Casper is one of many companies experimenting with new ways to encourage employees to live healthier lives, in this case by monitoring their exercise and sleep habits and rewarding those who work out and get to bed on time. Leah Fessler profiles the company’s wellness incentive program at Quartz:
Casper co-founder Neil Parikh explains that employees track their exercise and sleep via IncentFit, a fitness-reward app designed for company use. They use the app to “check in” at their desired gym or fitness facility. (Location-based algorithms ensure that you really are at SoulCycle, not on your couch.) IncentFit also rewards running, walking, or biking milage tracked via fitness apps or devices like Fitbit.
Payment is distributed monthly: $20 per fitness facility/class visit, $0.20 per mile walked, $4 per mile ran, $2 per mile biked, and $50 per race completed. The startup has also extended the benefit to rest, encouraging employees to track nightly sleep via IncentFit for $2 per night. Through IncentFit, Casper employees can earn a monthly maximum of $130 for exercise and $60 for sleep—a $190 cap set by Casper’s leadership.
“[A]s an employee, I’d be very nervous about this benefit, particularly who has access to sensitive exercise and sleep data,” organizational psychologist Liane Davey tells Fessler:
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Wearable technology that tracks health and fitness data is all the rage, and health insurance companies and wellness vendors see these new technologies as a way to help organizations lower their health care costs by allowing the insurer or vendor to aggregate and monitor employees’ health data in order to uncover trends and suggest ways to target wellness programs to employees’ specific health concerns. Naturally, this type of monitoring has raised a number of privacy concerns. While US authorities are open to letting organizations offer employees incentives to wear fitness trackers and share their anonymized data, this has proven a harder sell in Europe, where Dutch regulators have ruled against such incentives and UK workers don’t trust their employers with their health data.
Advocates of workplace wearables argue that because the data is anonymized, aggregated, and collected by third parties, employees have little to fear in terms of their privacy—and in any case, much of that data is innocuous and not very useful for making complex inferences. Elizabeth Weingarten says otherwise. Writing at Slate, Weingarten makes the case that there is no “innocuous” data when it comes to people’s bodies and that this data shouldn’t be given away—least of all to employers or third-party vendors whose ability to misuse it is scantily regulated:
Suddenly, anyone who knows your heart rate may prejudge—accurately or not—your emotions, mood, and sexual prowess. “This data can be very easily misinterpreted,” says Michelle De Mooy, the acting director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “People tend to think of data as fact, when in fact it’s governed by algorithms that are created by humans who have bias.”
Robin Mestre, the principal strategic advisor at Google for Work, takes to the pages of Fast Company to discuss how machine learning technologies are transforming our approach to workplace wellness, offering ways to automatically encourage or enable healthier behaviors:
Broadly speaking, the biggest potential advantage to bringing in machine learning for on-the-job health is that it’s all about putting data we already have into action in real time. Fitness trackers do that to a certain extent already, and many of them are designed to use that data to help modify users’ behavior (though some are skeptical as to how successfully).
But not all tools based on machine learning are wearables, and many can still give you in-the-moment nudges in subtle, helpful ways (that don’t make you feel bad about yourself). A recent one that we’ve built here at Google is the Goals feature of Google Calendar, released last month and meant to help people find time for their goals—whether that’s going to the gym or wrapping up creative projects on schedule. After answering a few simple questions like “How often”? and “Best time?” Google Calendar finds the optimal window in your schedule and automatically reschedules if a conflict comes up.
New technologies like fitness trackers, which allow us to monitor our health, mental state, performance, and behavior in ways we never could before, have spurred the rise of the “Quantified Self”: A philosophy of self-assessment and self-improvement through the power of big data. Of course, a project that involves treating one’s own body as a science experiment was bound to get pretty weird. Olivia Goldhill at Quartz takes a look at the latest Silicon Valley trend of “biohacking”—”where practitioners use data about themselves and their environment to perfect their daily routine of eating, sleeping, working, and exercising for optimal performance”:
At Nootrobox, a San Francisco company that makes brain supplements, the entire company collectively fasts for 36 hours every week. “It was hard for the first couple of weeks, but now it’s like the company culture,” says co-founder Geoffrey Woo. “A weekly ritual if you will.” Some members of the nine-person company, all aged from mid-twenties to mid-thirties, even start early and do a 60-hour weekly fast. Woo defines biohacking as treating your body like a computer system. “That means being experimental and rigorous about inputs in the system,” he says. “Measuring, quantifying and optimizing those inputs for specific outputs.”
Woo and his co-founder, Michael Brandt, have used data to solve larger problems since they met as computer science majors at Stanford. While in college, this took the form of Brandt using a journal to track all his conversations, in a bid to get better at talking to women. “It shows that mindset of being very rigorous, of measuring and quantifying one’s schedule to optimize for an outcome,” says Woo.This same methodical approach is behind the company’s weekly staff fasts. And the method is working, says Woo—Tuesday fast days are “one of our most productive days of the week.”
So should you implement a fasting day in your office? Maybe not, especially if your employees aren’t all young men:
As the consumer market grows for wearable health and fitness tracking technology, some employers see these devices as an opportunity for them to collect employee health data, which they can use to support workplace wellness programs, encourage healthier employee behavior, and ultimately reduce health care costs. These initiatives have come under scrutiny, however, for the risks they may pose to employees’ privacy, and law and regulation in this area are still evolving. While the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has indicated that it has no problem with incentivizing employees to share health data—as long as that sharing is really and truly voluntary—Dutch authorities have said “no” to organizations giving their employees fitness trackers and collecting their data, even voluntarily.
So how do employees feel about wearing fitness trackers and sharing the data with their employers? Well, a new study finds that most workers in the UK are skeptical of workplace wearables, Sara Bean reports at Workplace Insight, because they “worry that their employer may use the data against them and not for their benefit”:
According to new PwC research, despite an estimated 3 million people in the UK buying a wearable device in 2015 – a 118 percent increase from the previous year –employees are still unconvinced about using wearables in the workplace. The research also found that two thirds (65 percent) want their employer to take an active role in their health and wellbeing, and feel that technology should be used to help them do this. But only 46 percent of people surveyed say they would accept a free piece of wearable technology if their employers had access to the data recorded. This is broadly in line with last year’s research, when 44 percent said they would take up this offer.