Here in Louisville, where my company Interapt is headquartered, the Greater Louisville Project has sought to determine how our community ranks among 17 peer cities, based on four “Deep Drivers of competition. Under the “Health Behaviors driver, Louisville ranks 15th. That low ranking makes it clear our community must take a critical look at itself in order to address this deficiency in our collective wellness and fitness habits. So how can we use technology to both measure and incentivize our success moving forward?
The first step is for citizens to quantify and organize their personal fitness data. Personally, I often find a problem is both easier to ignore and much harder to address when there aren’t solid metrics associated with it for me to analyze, whether were talking about my company or my personal life. Regularly collecting accurate fitness data makes it easier to measure the impact of corrective actions and continually tweak the process; this is how personal health metrics become analytics.
But how do we collect and manage this data? That’s the main idea behind new health platforms found in Apple Watch, Fitbit, Jawbone, Android Wear, and other trendy wearables. The belief is that tracking our body’s daily movement and physical activity helps us set more realistic fitness goals and adjust our daily routine to avoid sedentary lifestyles that shorten our life expectancy. In this way, mobile health platforms can turn our personal health data into a new kind of credit score, lets call it a “Wellness Score. More on that in a bit.
Measuring this data is one thing; for the data to be useful, have value, and positively impact our health, we must act on it. And unfortunately, as ridiculous as it might sound, the simple reward of being healthier isn’t enough for most of us to consider making the necessary changes to our lifestyle; we need incentives beyond feeling better and living longer.
That’s why perhaps the most important step to Louisville becoming a healthier community is for companies to reward its citizens for maintaining a healthier lifestyle–at least, healthier as is measured by the technology we use and wear.
This is where Wellness Scores come in. Much like credit scores, individuals will control the privacy of their Wellness Score, depending on whether we deem the incentives worth disclosing the score on a case-by-case basis; much like today, where we can refuse to allow banks or individuals to look up our credit score, but as a consequence we might get higher loan rates, or we might not be allowed to lease property. Similarly, our Wellness Score could affect our health insurance rates, or it may even affect whether we’re hired for a position at an elite company.
Think about it: Credit scores are basically an overall assessment of our financial wellness, based on key financial indicators (e.g. lines of credit, amount owed, payment history, etc.) used by various businesses that assume a risk when forming a relationship with us. Similarly, a health insurance company assumes risk when insuring a policyholder; a college or professional sports team assumes risk when offering scholarships or contracts to athletes; and researchers assume the risk of their trials being skewed or inaccurate based on varying physical habits of participants. If you think creatively enough, almost any endeavor can be seen as investing in the health of its workforce and/or consumers.
In the long run (no pun intended, I swear), commoditizing our fitness data will both save us money and make us healthier. The sooner companies offer their workforce and their consumers incentives based on reliable Wellness Scores, the sooner our citizens will get healthier.
[A version of this essay recently appeared in the Courier-Journal]