A group of people wear smart watches and put their hands together in a huddle.One team member goes to the dog park. Another marches in place while watching TV. A third is training for a half-marathon.

All three—along with their fellow employees at Spectrum Health Medical Group’s Enhanced Primary Care office in Wyoming—are shooting for the same goal: walking 10,000 steps a day, all year long.

They keep track of their steps using the wearable fitness trackers they received as gifts from the doctors who lead the practice, Karen Garibaldi, MD, and Allison Fabian, DO.

The Fitbit wristbands were a hit with the employees and a perfect fit for the practice’s wellness philosophy.

“If we’re promoting wellness as a value, we can’t just talk the talk, we have to walk the walk—quite literally,” Dr. Garibaldi said.

Competition and accountability

Along with the devices came a challenge from the doctors: to walk around the world as a team in 2015. That’s the equivalent of nearly 25,000 miles.

“If we get 2,000 miles a month, collectively, we’ll make it,” Dr. Garibaldi said.

A group of Spectrum Health professionals pose for a photo.To date, the co-workers are right on track. A competitive streak that runs through the team keeps everyone motivated.

So does the technology. Using the Fitbit phone app and website, the team created a private group called EPC World Tour to track their progress. The online leaderboard tallies everyone’s steps and shows who’s on top.

“The (online) group is one of the best tools, because it keeps you accountable,” said Liz Stob, a nurse practitioner with the practice.

That’s what makes today’s fitness trackers more effective than traditional pedometers, she said.

The devices are also proving to be a good relational tool in patient care, Stob said. “I can say to a patient, ‘Hey, I see you have a Fitbit. How’s it going?’ And then we can talk about fitness and the 10,000-steps-a-day goal,” which is the generally recommended target for adults.

Technology as part of daily life

Skeptics might question the effectiveness of wearable technologies such as the Fitbit and the new Apple Watch, but these Spectrum Health employees are believers. One team member lost 25 pounds in the first nine weeks of the walk-around-the-world project. Another lost 10 pounds in a month.

A whiteboard says, "EPC Steps Around the World."Dr. Garibaldi believes the gadgets have staying power.

“There’s so much tracking being done through technology today,” she said. “People are using apps to measure blood pressure, blood sugar—it’s becoming part of the culture. Apps are the way we jump into new behaviors today.”

The team’s use of technology to foster fitness is one of many innovations at the primary care office. A larger innovation will be introduced this spring when the practice pilots a new type of annual exam, the enhanced team visit wellness exam, to replace the traditional physical.

Nicknamed the “speed dating wellness exam,” this visit uses a team approach to patient care and puts the focus on prevention.

In conjunction with this new-style exam, patients will be invited to join the practice’s Fitbit public group, called the EPC Wellness Club. Dr. Garibaldi sees it as a way to help patients walk the walk, too.