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Healthy Notifications

Tap, swipe, ‘like’ - a refresh for screen time that emphasizes better health outcomes.

Tuck your smartphone out of sight. Peel off your smartwatch and stick it in a desk drawer. Now, tune into these startling notifications.

​​​Every day, the average smartphone user interacts with their device 2,617 times (Network World). The 10% of us who are self-described “smartphone obsessed” click, touch or swipe on a mobile device 5,427 times daily.

​​​​On average, we spend 4.2 hours daily using several apps (App Annie), and many clock 144 minutes on social media compared to 60 minutes per day in 2012 (Broadband Search).

Not only do employers cite smartphone use as a top productivity killer in the workplace, 40% of people regularly check phones at midnight (Deloitte), which means we’re not getting enough sleep—and we’re not taking enough breaks from the screen. In fact, 75% of Americans use their phones in the restroom (CNet).

So the surveys say, we are distracting ourselves into a perpetual cycle of click-tap-swipe-post-text. Why? Is it FOMO (fear of missing out)? Is it the dopamine hit of a feel-good “like”?

Regardless, we’re notification obsessed, and across health sectors, we’re also being warned that excessive screen time makes us sedentary and inattentive, negatively impacts mood, and is a source of anxiety and depression. Ironically, we’re more disconnected despite a rush to “connect.” And app algorithms aren’t helping because they are designed to keep us coming back.

To trigger awareness and action, Mayo Clinic even launched a program called Slim Your Screen time, a self-guided two-month challenge anyone can join. “Less screen time allows you to increase your physical activity, build social relationships that contribute to resiliency, and improve your mood and mental health,” the plan description explains.

“Multitasking is switch-tasking,” says Erik Qualman, a keynote speaker at the 2024 I-Value-Able Conference and Expo. Qualman is a professor of Digital Leadership at Northwestern University and former sitting professor at MIT and Harvard edX labs. He’s also a Forbes Top Influencer.

If we’re multitasking through notifications, what are we ignoring in the meantime? (What about “health notifications” like symptoms of a chronic condition or reduced activity?)

Rather than refreshing an app, perhaps we need to refresh our approach: Focus. Influence. Simplify. This was our conference theme, and it also speaks to leveraging digital innovation to prepare for the new healthcare landscape and inform more proactive care, improved outcomes, increased employee engagement and better overall wellness.

Reducing screen time to carve time for healthier pursuits is a good idea for everyone. Take a walk. Catch up with a friend. Look out the window and take a few deep breaths. And rather than pouncing on the next notification, tune into those “health notifications.” If we dedicated even a fraction of the average time spent on smart devices to health and wellbeing, how different would our workforce feel and engage in not only business, but in life?

Equally important, look for ways to leverage data and apps that can improve the health of our employee populations since we know smartphones are essentially a fifth appendage.

For example, last year’s keynote speaker, Drew Mendelow, developed the app T1D1 (Type 1 from Day 1) to simplify diabetes risk management and help people track their glucose levels.

Healthcare organizations offer apps with reward-based challenges, including monetary incentives for getting an annual checkup, tracking sleep or walking 5,000 steps a day. Find out what types of engaging, app-based offers your health insurance provider offers for plan members and share these with your employees.

Mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm offer guided meditation activities. Apps like MyFitnessPal and PlatePal promote nutrition. Why not bundle a lunch-and-learn focused on-screen time awareness with an open forum for sharing favorite health and wellness apps that encourage employees to tap toward better health?

Of course, downloading and checking these apps repeatedly won’t do a whole lot for reducing risk of chronic conditions, increasing daily activity, or promoting other healthy habits. They’re designed to inspire, reward, and create supportive communities. We still have to do the hard work.

The same is true for making the most of data that “helps deliver the right care at the right time,” Qualman points out, noting that 90% of pharmaceutical data that exists today was generated in the last two years. Coming down the pike, he sees AI playing a role in helping patients source prescriptions based on the least expensive out-of-pocket cost.

Innovation done right is “subtractive,” Qualman says. It simplifies.

Notifications done right can be healthy reminders.

About Health Action Council 
Health Action Council
 is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community.

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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