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The Pros and Cons of Health Insurance Companies Using Wearables to Track Your Behaviour

Posted by The Best of Health
Categories: Health Insurance /

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Your health insurance company already has a lot of data on you. It knows about all your existing medical conditions. It’s probably aware of your weight and height. It’s also got details as to how much alcohol you drink and how many cigarettes (if any) you smoke.

Now, it seems that health insurance companies are preparing to go a step further, and monitor your lifestyle choices, levels of fitness and even heart rate, using wearable devices.

Wearable Devices: What Are They?
Wearable devices are nothing new. Designed to be worn on a specific part of the body, their original purpose was to measure fitness; for example, keeping tabs on how many steps you’d taken throughout the day, or to measure other factors, such as heart rate, calorie intake and even exposure to the sun.

Big brand names such as Google, Samsung and Apple have already developed wearable devices, which are now available on the market.

Using Wearables to Monitor Your Lifestyle
According to a recent report in Forbes, in the US, health insurance companies are now investigating the potential that wearables can offer in terms of measuring the activities of their customers.

It’s a fairly natural progression, given that several employers in the US are encouraging their staff to wear these devices as part of their corporate wellness programmes. The data gathered by the devices is used to determine whether or not the employee is staying active and eating well.

Insurance companies are now seeking to take this even further; gathering data on their customers, with the purpose of rewarding those who stay fit, active and healthy with lower insurance costs. The same may also work in reverse. Those who don’t exercise and who eat badly, may find that their insurance rates increase.

Lowering Rates of Obesity and Heart Disease?
Opinions are divided. Kelly Barnes, who tracks healthcare for PricewaterhouseCoopers (a professional services provider) is confident that wearables we ‘be on insurance marketplaces in the not-too-distant future.’ She argues that the use of these devices could help to encourage better lifestyle choices, thus lowering rates of obesity and heart disease, and helping to remove pressure from the healthcare services.

The use of wearables may also be beneficial to those over the age of 50; whose health insurance tends to be higher due to their age. By following a healthy lifestyle, the devices could provide data that would help lower insurance premiums, regardless of age.

A Matter of Privacy… and Fashion
However, others remain justifiably concerned about privacy. Pam Dixon, executive director of World Privacy Forum, emphasises the importance of not establishing a system ‘where people become pressured into wearing devices to monitor their health.’ She also asserts that such a system could be a ‘real problem. That’s just not very free.’

Indeed, there is a distinctly uncomfortable sense of ‘big brother is watching you’ about the thought of an insurance company gaining such detailed information on your everyday activities. In addition to this, according to survey carried out by mobile app developers Apadmi, as many as a third of people would feel embarrassed about wearing a wearable device, and view them as ‘unstylish’.

Although the use of wearables by health insurance companies is still only a proposition for the future, it may well one day become a reality.

* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11197645/UK-wearables-market-to-be-worth-314m-by-Christmas.html

* http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/06/19/wearable-tech-health-insurance/

* http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/e-innovation/wearables-too-ugly-embarrassing-162539

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