Cambridge, Ohio-based Advantage Bank has about 220 employees throughout 23 branches serving the southeast corner of the state and parts of Kentucky and West Virginia. In April 2012, the bank started a program to encourage employees to get healthy by increasing how much they walk and focusing on improving their diets. Nearly 160 employees are still participating, thanks in part to a mobile app that makes tracking progress easy, immediate and educational.

Advantage Bank uses software and pedometers from San Antonio-based Walkingspree that enable employees to track how many steps they take daily and chart it, compare their progress with other employees, determine how many miles they walked, how many calories were burned and how many of those calories were fat. They also enter information on their daily diet to track their food intake, and can enter health status information following physician appointments--such as body mass index, heart rate, and glucose and cholesterol levels--and track these levels over time.

Angel Ogle, an assistant vice president and human resources administrator at Advantage Bank, tested the program for about six months before it went live, talking it up with employees when they asked why she had a pedometer, and sending out e-mails to make sure everyone knew about the forthcoming program. She remains an active participant in the walking program, as do all senior managers.

Participating employees download software to their home computer or laptop that links them to a Walkingspree-hosted Web site. Users enter their weight and height into their pedometer, which enables the device to track the length of steps, and whether they’re normal or aerobic steps. A cord connects the pedometer to the home computer, which uploads daily data to the Web site.

Employees can use the home computer to access the Web site and get trending data, but they also can access via a mobile computing device as the primary function of the home computer is to be the data uploading conduit to the Walkingspree site.

Ogle uses her mobile phone to track her own steps walked and to access the names of participating employees, but no other personal information. She uses the names to encourage employees who have tailed off to become active participants again, dangling gift cards and vacation days. The goal is to get employees walking 5,000 to 6,000 steps a day. At the end of six months, those meeting the goals get $200 put in their health savings account, or $100 cash if they are not in the medical plan.

Because the program began in April, there was a prorated payment at the end of June for 139 qualifying participants, representing 75 percent of those who started the program. Out of the 139, 131 averaged more than 6,000 steps daily and the other eight averaged at least 5,000. Another round of incentive payments will be made in early 2013 for employees successfully participating in the program from June through December.

During 2012, claims payments have been lower than the previous year, Ogle says. Whether the reason is because employees are walking more and are wiser of their health status and use of health services isn’t yet known. For senior management, Ogle says, the ROI is simply seeing all those employees taking all those steps. “This is obviously improving health, walking will do that,” she adds. And it looks like the walking program is here to stay, she notes. “It’s something that certainly interests people.”

A feature story in the January issue of Health Data Management will explore how mobile apps are becoming a tool to attract health care consumers and keep them healthier.

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