Barmer Ersatzkasse, Germany’s biggest health insurance company, has begun to offer its 7m customers mobile phone based fitness monitoring.

The monitoring service will become part of the company’s prevention programme and can be used to lower insurance premiums.

Developed in conjunction with the IT service provider T-Systems, a division of Deutsche Telekom, it features a chest strap that measures heart rate and caloric expenditure. The data collected is then transmitted first via a bluetooth connection to the mobile phone, and then via GPS or UMTS to a web-based personal health record (PHR). Customers have to pay for the chest strap, at around €90, with a further monthly charge of €5 for using the PHR.

“In return, a customer can reduce his insurance premiums”, Barmer-spokesman Thorsten Jakob told E-Health Europe. When a customer is able to prove they have run 5 kilometres or cycled 20 kilometres, they are eligible for a reduction of up to €30 a year.

This is done is by printing out the relevant page of the PHR and handing it in to Barmer. “The process could obviously be done electronically but we want to avoid the impression that Barmer has access to any personal data. We cannot look into the personal data, and we do not want to”, said Jakob.

Being able to save €30 a year means that the individual’s costs for the programme are not covered by the potential savings. However, there are a number of services involved that could still make it an attractive option,

“Users will get an individual training schedule with suggestions for length and intensity of further training sessions”, said T-Systems’ CEO Reinhard Clemens. A sports medicine specialist is assisting with this functionality.

The GPS signal is able to map the route taken by the runner or cyclist and display the points at which heart rate, calorie uptake and the like were highest and lowest. Information like this can help to plan further training sessions.

“The main target group of the programme is mobile workers, people who are interested in prevention but don’t have the time to do a regular sports programme or join a sports club”, said head of Barmer, Johannes Vöcking.