Building and Deploying a Tech-Enabled Wellness Program at a Large Employer

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Lots of excitement, little evidence.

When first introduced, consumer-facing wearable devices like FitBit, Jawbone and the Apple Watch were met with widespread enthusiasm by users and healthcare experts alike, many whom speculated that these tools could transform the physical activity behaviors and health of everyday users. 

The opportunity for wearables extended beyond just the everyday user: Boehringer Ingelheim wondered if wearables delivered by workplace wellness programs and health plans could help employees make lasting improvements in their physical activity levels, an important preventive care measure tied to lowered health care costs and better health outcomes in the long term. 

The success of such an employer health program hinged on the untested notion that wearables could improve physical activity. To determine the true extent of this market opportunity, Boehringer first needed evidence of how such programs influence activity behaviors. 


Building and deploying a tech-enabled wellness program.

HITLAB worked with Boehringer to design and launch a workplace wellness program that paired a Jawbone UP activity tracker with a supportive wellness program. Then, HITLAB conducted a validation study of the program at Boehringer’s campus. Close to 600 employees were enrolled in a formal research study and asked to participate in the program for a 9 month period. 


False assumptions, but with a silver lining.

Despite high expectations, no change was seen in activity levels, measured by steps per day, over the study period. Without evidenced improvements in this key metric, Boehringer chose to forego a considerable investment in the program, avoiding losses in an arena that other investors later found to be lackluster. 

The deployment also unearthed new opportunities for wearables that later proved to predict where the overall industry was moving. Employees in the study who selected to use the device to support doctor-recommended and medical goals saw improved activity levels, indicating a clinical use case for the product. The market for wearables today reflects this insight, as many wearable companies pivoted their consumer-facing products to medical-grade devices. Sleep levels improved across the entire cohort, suggesting that wearables can be used to support healthy sleep, a lesser-understood but important preventive health behavior that is now being explored more deeply in wearables made by Apple and others.

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