E-centives and Online Health Programs

November 10, 2010

In a recent article posting from Employee Benefit News on the success of online health programs, the author summarized a study that confirmed their popularity while also noting gender-based differences in acceptance. (Read it here) The highlights mentioned that the top three reasons for joining an online health program were the same for men and women:

  • weight loss
  • health improvement
  • financial incentives

Under employer-provided options, the primary motivation for men and women was financial incentive. In one example cited in the article, $100 gift cards for big box retailers and paycheck deposits that offset insurance premiums were considered most attractive by employees. These findings are the perfect behavior levers that can be harnessed to create a working preventive health program.

In particular, by taking the biggest drivers identified in the study above —weight loss and financial incentives — a highly motivating health program can be designed. Imagine offering a weight loss program, co-created by the employee and employer to help drive healthful change. This could include membership in a Weight Watchers group, provision of healthful snacks at the office, break time for walking during the day, a reduction in insurance premiums for reaching targeted weight loss goals, etc. Whatever the employer and employee agreed upon, those elements should aim to include a financial incentive component tied to weight loss goals. The costs for implementing the program should become tax-deductions to the employer.

The study cited above noted that men were more likely to be engaged in an online program that managed a health condition than women. However, both men and women were primarily interested in weight loss where their online health program interests were concerned. Women were much more active in engaging in electronic coaching than men. These differences can be integrated into the design of an e-health program as well. Given that women use online mentoring, it would make sense to include electronic reminders and encouraging messages into any e-solution.

Once the program is in effect for a year, both the employer and employee can refine the health program to gain greater efficiencies. Let’s say the initial weight loss goal is met, but other related health issues are deemed worthy of attention. The employee can suggest the health program now include revised goals, e.g. weight training to improve upper body strength or flexibility classes for greater body limber. Likewise, weight loss maintenance may very well require incentives to keep the pounds off, and those program elements should be assembled by employee and employer together to get the right mix.

One of the more striking findings from the study is that 56% of participants changed their health maintenance approach or the health of someone for whom they serve as caregiver. This means that there’s a ripple effect from online health programs for employees that extends into their family and friend network. The most compelling outcome from the study is that 74% of participants claimed to have achieved their goals and changed behavior.  Given this powerful model, what more incentive do we need to adopt it?

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