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Penn Current: Taking steps to improve activity-tracking results

“… Patel, who has spearheaded several studies about activity trackers since their advent, partnered with Humana between 2014-15 for the largest study of its kind, totaling approximately 4.5 million people who had access to the HumanaVitality wellness program, which incentivized continued use with financial rewards of as much as 25 cents to 40 cents per day. Remarkably, during the two-year monitoring period, only 1.2 percent of the sample—or, 53,245 people—activated a tracking device. But the study also offers good news about trackers with its insights into the habits of those who did use them, even after six months had passed. Eighty percent of those who signed up continued to use the trackers after six months; to boot, though only .1 percent of the elderly in the sample population activated their device, 90.4 percent of those people—more than any other demographic—sustained use. Individuals younger than 34 were the least likely to stick with it. Patel says the findings are useful for designing future health tracking programs and informing insurance companies, not to mention medical practitioners, who to focus on in the future. ‘Really, the goal of that study was to look at what people are using, in general, and then see what demographics an employer might want to think about,’ he says. ‘Maybe they do want to offer extra promotions to target the elderly.’ Patel, who is a part of the world’s first-ever behavioral design team in a health system, says the study data suggests that the design and framing of incentives are crucial in persuading people to be more active. Access to the technology and financial incentives alone, he concluded, may not be enough. ‘One challenge is most of these incentives are designed under the standard economic approach: “You lose weight, be active, get your metric screening, then we’ll pay you. We won’t give you cash; it’ll come as a deduction in your health insurance premium, which you’ll never see because it’s tied to your bi-weekly paycheck and shunted to your bank account through direct deposit,”‘ Patel says. ‘It’s hidden; it’s delayed. These are all things we know from behavioral economics are not very motivating to people.’ In essence: Build it and, in reality, they may not come. ‘These are behavioral issues, not technological ones,’ adds David Asch, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, which collaborates with the Nudge Unit. ‘Everyone already knows seatbelts save lives and smoking kills, but people still smoke and still people get into a car without buckling up. Behavioral economics recognizes that people don’t always act in their own rational best interest. The key observation of behavioral economics is not just that people sometimes behave irrationally, but that they do so in highly predictable ways. It is the predictability of these decision errors that allow us to design strategies to overcome them. That’s what has me optimistic.'” Read the rest of the article at Penn Today.