Health IT

What can healthcare industry learn from Nike Fuelband vending machine?

Photo credit: @FrenchFuel, Instagram

Photo credit: @FrenchFuel, Instagram

Nike opened a vending machine in New York City in what looks like an incentives experiment for using its Fuelband. If Nike Fuelband users do enough activity, they scan their wristband and can receive shirts, hats and socks and other Nike gear. It’s a cool experiment and it will be interesting to see if it gets enough traction from the public to prove it’s worthwhile once it goes beyond the novelty stage.

It raises two questions for me: How long will it take for someone to successfully break into one and are there any lessons to be learned here for the healthcare industry, particularly for patient engagement? According to media reports, the rewards are given based on what users achieve in the short term. They cannot have amassed those fuel points from workouts over a substantial time frame, as I understand it.


With the growing number of sensors and wearable devices, it’s not such a huge leap to think about how this approach to incentives could be applied to other parts of healthcare. Medication and care plan adherence come to mind. This kind of cashless incentive could be used to reward medication adherence, improving heart rate, diet. It could also conceivably reward users for successfully managing their blood-glucose levels.

Perhaps it could move well beyond Nike swag to include a range of products that would appeal to a wider audience. There’s no reason why it couldn’t move beyond cashless vending machines and into stores. Users could simply walk into a participating store that could scan their wearable in return and determine eligibility for a desired reward.

It’s fair to say that incentive programs have had mixed results for behavior change in healthcare from tuberculosis medication, taking Warfarin or HIV meds. Still, healthcare professionals readily point out that improving adherence requires multiple solutions to match the diverse reasons why people don’t comply with care plans.

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