A few months ago, I attended the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Health 2.0 strives to present cutting-edge innovation intended to transform health and health care. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of innovation happening in the health and wellness space. I was introduced to a dizzying array of personal devices, phone apps and online systems.

The sheer number of personal devices available to measure every aspect of your health has been growing steadily over the past few years. This year there was an even wider variety of devices:

* SweatBeat for stress management and heart rate variability.

* Larklife for tracking steps, meals and sleep.

* FitBug, FitBit and ActiveLink for tracking physical activity.

* Butterfleye for tracking your heart rate while underwater.

* PerformTek for measuring biometric data through an earbud.

Instead of selling straight to the consumer, many of these companies now also sell to employers and health plans.

FitBug, for example, can create challenges for physical activity that incorporate the company's culture into the mix. One demo showed how an individual participating in a wellness program could use their activity points to virtually walk across the United States to a corporation's various offices. As the participant reached each new location, a video of the office with some of the local people speaking about it would be shown. In this way, through the wellness program, FitBug is attempting to link geographically disparate locations to build more community within the company, while getting healthy at the same time.

 

Mobile apps

Mobile applications, while focused exclusively on the consumer at this point, provided another area with some significant innovation and unique ways to promote health and wellness. With close to 44 million downloads of health-related apps projected for 2012, this is a growing area of interest. (Read this month's featured report, "An app a day," on page 28 for the latest in wellness mobile app technology.)

The apps presented at Health 2.0 ranged from the general to the specific. 100 plus is an interactive app that allows users to create little fitness challenges based on location. Thryve is an online meal-tracking platform that allows you to take pictures of your food and visually shows how much you ate by increasing or decreasing the virtual plate size of your food. It also asks users how they felt about the food they ate and, over time, can potentially pinpoint food sensitivities. Futura Mobility, meanwhile, has an app that allows the remote monitoring of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to determine when they might need medical intervention.

With increased scrutiny on mobile apps by the Food and Drug Administration, we could see the mobile health landscape change in the future. For now, though, it might be worth sharing information with your employees about some of the free options available on their mobile phones.

Several companies have created apps and systems to help patients with their medication regimens. Flornce, a mobile app by mHealthCoach, provides prescription reminders and uses machine learning to determine nonadherence patterns.

Pill Jogger is another mobile app that helps with prescription reminders, but also provides coupons and rebates to help with medication costs while rewarding those who are compliant with their prescription regimen. The most impressive of the bunch was Allazo Health, which not only tracks medication adherence, but predicts adherence and the best method of intervention to reach an individual.

Medicationnoncompliances costs the U.S. approximately $290 billion according to the New England Healthcare Institute, and research has found that medication adherence is associated with reduced health care use and costs. For these reasons, incorporating medication adherence tools into your corporate health programs makes economic sense.

 

Innovation is happening

Another major theme was caregiving. One Gallup poll found that one-in-six workers have some responsibility for caring for an elderly or disabled family member. A MetLife study quantified this as costing employers $17.1 billion in lost productivity.

CarePlanners is a website, available to both employers and consumers, that allows individuals, whether close or far away, to have one place to track and coordinate all care for a family member. In addition to providing a website, it also will provide personal services, by a nurse, to help manage health care services.

Innovation is happening in the health and wellness space faster than ever. Take the time to learn about what's up-and-coming and maybe you'll find your next tool for bending the health care cost curve.

Contributing Editor Shana Sweeney is a self-proclaimed geek and political junkie with degrees in politics and human resources. She is an SPHR with more than a decade of experience working in various industries, including high-tech, utilities, manufacturing and health insurance. She can be reached at calshana@gmail.com.

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