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Fixing the Wellness Conundrum

by John Moore | February 24, 2009

just_walking_bMy friends over at the Humana skunk-works CrumpleItUp (sure hope they aren’t paid in Human stock after yesterday’s rout, 24% drop – OUCH) put up an interesting post that takes a hard look at Wellness programs and why most fail miserably.

Breaking down Wellness efforts into three models; traditional, heavy-handed top-down, specific games to encourage and engage the consumer in Wellness activities and developing games that are first, FUN than inserting Wellness into the fun.  If any of you have been to CrumpleItUp, you will know where their hearts and souls lie – let’s make it fun, let’s make it engaging and healthy behavior will be an outcome, naturally.

This is in part why their Freewheel!n effort was such a success. Freewheel!n got folks back on bikes, something they may not have experienced in decades, reconnecting them with their youth and the joy, freedom and simplicity of riding a bike (full disclosure, I am an extremely avid cyclist).

But what may be the real challenge of any Wellness program is how to make them sustainable over the long term to truly impact and change behaviors that most likely evolved and have been in place for years, if not decades.  It is not like we just throw a switch and the consumer changes their behavior.  Sure, under top-down Wellness programs from say an employer, incentives may be provided that an employee will readily capitalize upon and change behavior in the short-term.  But what happens when that program is discontinued, or the employee changes employers?  Do they continue those healthy habits without the incentives?

To make Wellness systemic and truly change behaviors we do need to make Wellness fun and as CrumpleItUp articulates in their post, embed that healthy fun behavior into activities that consumers are already doing, maybe giving a nudge in the direction for them to do more. Setting up peer-to-peer (P2P) contests is one approach which CrumpleItUp is doing with Horsepower Challenge.

Recently, Sean Nolan of Microsoft’s HealthVault group wrote a post on what one of their developers did in building a HealthVault app called, Walk Me. Walk Me is similar to the Horsepower Challenge in that it focuses on just walking, but unlike Horsepower, Walk Me looks at bringing together peers based on BMI and age wherein one can see how they compare to others in their physicial activity of simply walking. The BMI and age data is based on their HealthVault profile. As this is completely consumer opt-in there are no privacy issues/concerns, it is a consumer’s choice whether or not to participate.

Taking this all one step further (no pun intended) Wellness programs such as this may also cater to our inner desires to leave this world just a little better off than we found it.  As I mentioned to Sean when he informed me of his post, I like it Sean, but why not tie all those steps walked to say some charitable program like FreeRice, donating a grain of rice for each step walked or in a similar vein a penny for each step to an organization like Kiva.org.  One could even set-up friendly competitions between groups as to who might ultimately contribute more to such humanitarian relief efforts.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”

– Herman Melville

There is so much more that we, as a wealthy nation, even during these tight times, could be doing at an individual level to improve not only our health, but world health.  Time to get walking.

3 responses to “Fixing the Wellness Conundrum”

  1. John, thanks for the great post. I think that you hit on something really important in the sustainability of any health initiative. And the truth of the matter is that we don’t really know a) how broadly our programs will appeal to people; b) how sustainable they’ll be; or c) whether/how they’ll be sustainable FOR US (i.e., generate revenue).
    But I don’t think that those unknowns should deter anyone from this space; I think that the hypothesis has a good enough grounding in common sense to make experimentation worthwhile.
    A lot of people have asked me about whether we fear that our competitors will join us in this space . . . and the unequivocal answer is “no.” We want to be a part of a social revolution; it’s going to take an army of people creating the new products and services that those revolutionaries are going to need.
    Thanks too for the tip on your contact at HealthVault; we’ll watch that one with interest. Thanks most of all for your support; you’re doing great work here and we’re proud to be associated with it.

  2. I love this post and will definitely check out CrumpleItup.

    Your post brings to mind how tricky Wellness programming is because so many different “notes” need to be played to make music that motivates.

    People want to be led, but we also want to feel empowered to make our own choices (and even to slack-off occasionally …).

    People want privacy, but we also desire recognition and a clubhouse to brag in when we’ve achieved a sought-after goal.

    Wellness is learned, unlearned, then learned again in response to life stage changes, sudden traumas, illness, etc. We do need that “army of people” – all the wise and the playful – to stick with us, to keep us growing in the right direction.

    Finally, this post reminds me that it’s about abundance… Health isn’t in short supply; it’s a natural resource just waiting to be upheld in each and every one of us.

  3. John says:

    My pleasure to write about the good work you and your team are doing at CrumpleItUp. In order to move the Wellness ball forward (and no it is not a “medicine ball”) we do need to think differently and stop trying to put consumers into something we think is good for them, but get out there and understand what interests they have and begin engaging them there, at that level. To do otherwise will result in Wellness programs that only work while there is a carrot. Once the carrot is gone, slipping back into old behaviors will be the norm.

    Really liked your comment that Wellness is learned, unlearned and learned again at various stages in one’s life. It is not static and yes, we all need that army of people around us to provide encouragement and support.

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