Employers that are considering incorporating wearable fitness devices into their wellness programs are facing important decisions about the cost of those devices, and must also be prepared to allay employees’ concerns about data security.

Between 29 percent and 42 percent of consumers said they’d be “very” or “somewhat” willing to buy a device for $100, according to a consumer survey released this week by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. But make wearables free, employer-paid or insurer-paid, and about two-thirds said they’d wear a smart watch or fitness band.

Perhaps surprisingly, 68 percent of consumers surveyed said they would opt in if their employers gave them wearables that send anonymous data to a pool in exchange for discounts on their insurance premiums.

Only one-in-five Americans today owns a wearable and only one-in-10 use them every day. “There’s a long way to go [to wider adoption] but there is great interest,” says Ceci Connolly, managing director at PwC’s Health Research Institute, which released a report, “Health Wearables: Early Days,” based on a summer 2014 survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers.

“You’ve got to make it very affordable, if not free, for the individual. That’s a consideration for employers,” says Connolly.

Moreover, she says, it’s not enough to tell employees: ‘Here’s a device, go use it.’ Employers must be creative with incentive programs to encourage the devices’ use.

“Increasingly, individuals want to know what the insights are from the data being collected. They want the information to go to their doctor or nurse or care team so they can maybe have a better conversation around what they’re doing right, where they can improve,” says Connolly. “It’s not enough to simply have a device to count stuff. You’ve got to take it to the next level.”

Data security continues to be a concern among consumers, the PwC report finds. “One of our strong recommendations to the industry and employers is that you have got to ensure you have very strong security and privacy safeguards in place,” says Connolly, adding that employers must also be prepared to communicate those security measures to employees in a clear, understandable way.

Bob Lombardi, senior vice president and chief actuary with Phoenix Companies, a life insurance and annuity company based on Hartford, Conn., recently participated in a company-sponsored wellness program that incorporated Fitbits. Devices were provided to employees free of charge and Lombardi says he was never concerned about the privacy of his data.

“With the Fitbit, I never really had any concerns because what’s being tracked is just steps being walked,” he says. “The program has been so helpful to me and others. I don’t have any concerns about tracking that because of all the benefits.”

Andrea Dumont, senior director of product marketing for wellness vendor Virgin Pulse, which announced this week its integration with the Apple HealthKit platform, believes the wellness industry will need to address employee concerns as wearable devices become more widespread.

“One of the challenges facing the wearable device industry is that once people start wanting to use specific data tied to that specific person and tying in their health benefits based on that, [that] is going to be exceptionally challenging,” she says. “Employees need to be in charge of the data. That’s really critical, that they know what data they want to share and with whom. That’s the next phase from a data-sharing perspective.” 

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