To cure your ailing wellness programs: personalize

To-cure-your-railing-wellness-programs-person

Personalized experiences can increase trust and member satisfaction, and are becoming more and more valuable …

Wellness programs are everywhere.

Did you get your 10,000 steps in today? A recent survey from the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments estimates 86% of employers offer some type of wellness program with a financial incentive. Typically, these are lifestyle programs created in conjunction with a healthcare payer that try to teach healthy habits – like walking more. They’ve grown in popularity because employers and healthcare payers want to keep members healthy.

But recent research suggests these programs don’t improve healthy habits.

A 2018 study by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, published as a working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that wellness programs don’t change employee’s behavior much. The researchers implemented a program at a large employer that included typical lifestyle offerings, such as a health screening, incentives to visit a gym facility, and participation in a popular annual community running event. They found that the employees who participated in the program were people who were already predisposed to healthier habits and behaviors – in other words, people who attended a gym or ran road races – and already had lower medical expenses than non-participants.

From a lifestyle standpoint, the data showed that the program failed to incent workers with less healthy habits to adopt healthier lifestyles. Two of their takeaways from the research are: employer wellness programs may be useful to attract and retain healthy workers – who already have low medical spending; and these programs are useful as a way to provide the appearance that the employer places a high priority on worker health and safety. However, as a way to incent healthier lifestyles, corporate wellness programs are ailing and need a cure themselves.

A better idea: To incent healthier habits, first recognize each person as an individual.

If an employee has a broken leg, or is wheelchair-bound, or otherwise mobility-impaired, how are they going to achieve 10,000 steps for their wellness program? A program that includes a daily step count or road race wouldn’t make sense. Neither would a gym membership for someone who doesn’t like gyms (talking about the man in my mirror). These generic and irrelevant incentives become frustrating for both the individual and the program provider. Instead, healthcare payers should focus on what program participants do want.

With advances in data analysis, predictive modeling, AI, and engagement channels and devices, the ability is there for healthcare payers to individualize options and incentives for wellness. This means:

  • Listening continuously to members across all channels (phone, IVR, website, self-service, chat, wearables, and social)
  • Analyzing the context of the current interactions with each member’s health history, claims, and any applicable social determinant data
  • Determining the most relevant incentive or action for that moment in time – whether it’s outreach, educational materials, an alert/reminder, or a tennis club membership

Using a combination of real-time data, AI technology, and an integrated healthcare CRM stack, healthcare payers can help employers create personalized wellness programs with incentives that are relevant, add value to the employee healthcare journey, and also account for the organization’s needs.

Make wellness more about proactive, personalized engagement.

Personalized experiences can not only increase trust and member satisfaction; they are becoming more and more valuable to members in a massively data-driven, person-centric, connected world. By using AI to crunch data, and a real-time decisioning tool to determine the best incentive for each individual at that moment in time, healthcare payers can reinvent wellness programs to make them truly engaging.

Done right, personalized wellness initiatives can be a high-value driver of improved health outcomes and reduced costs for payers and employers … and can actually help keep each individual healthy – rather than just counting steps from an activity tracker attached to their dog!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jitesh Rohatgi, Pega’s global director and healthcare/life sciences principal, has over 15 years of experience advising life sciences and healthcare organizations on the most effective use of CRM, MDM, and AI technologies to improve clinical safety and patient care.