Category Archives: Wellness

Look to Pokémon Go for your next wellness campaign

Gonchar-JessicaBy now, you’ve probably heard of Pokémon Go, the augmented reality craze that is sweeping the nation, one Pokémaster at a time. For those who have managed to avoid the app that has been downloaded more than 100 million times, Pokémon Go is a free mobile game that uses location-based technology, enabling players to capture, train, and battle Pokémon creatures overlaid on what you see in front of you. It’s fun, addicting, and everyone is playing it.

It’s also no secret that Pokémon Go encourages physical activity. You can’t expect to catch a rare Blastoise by staying inside all day. Players easily get swept up in the hunt for Pokémon, and before they even realize it, they have walked miles. But there are other ways Pokémon Go can help benefits professionals to effectively communicate aspects of health and wellness. Here are five elements of Pokémon Go that make it successful and ways benefits professionals can incorporate them into their wellness programs.

1. Community
The Pokémon Go community is so enormous because anyone with a mobile phone can play free. Often, players will gather in groups to scour a city for Pokémon or hang out together at Pokéstops, engaging in conversation with people they wouldn’t normally talk to.

Team wellness challenges create a sense of community and foster increased productivity and teamwork. Emphasizing a shared goal, such as walking a collective number of steps in a summer, can lead to a more connected and healthy workforce.

2. Customization
Pokémon Go allows users to fully customize the appearance of their avatars, from hair and eye color down to backpack style. This customization allows players to express themselves and encourages a personalized connection between themselves and their virtual reality selves.

Customization is critical for active participation in any employee wellness program. Employees are much more receptive to a program that is tailored to their needs and interests than to a generic wellness package.

3. Technology
Part of the appeal of Pokémon Go is its use of relatively new technology. By integrating both the smartphone and augmented reality, Pokémon Go has attracted a lot of media attention and keeps people interested.

Keeping up with technology trends can make your wellness communications relevant and powerful. Try highlighting the cool tools available through healthcare and wellness apps.

4. Nostalgia
Many of the people playing Pokémon Go are Millennials who remember the original Pokémon cards and cartoons. Incorporating the old game into a new platform allows players to indulge in their childhoods while staying relevant in modern culture.

Incorporating targeted messages for different generations can resonate deeply with employees. For example, a campaign to encourage more daily movement could rely on memories of hula hoops for Baby Boomers and Wii Fits for Millennials.

5. Fun
Let’s face it: Pokémon Go is so popular because it’s fun. Players never know what Pokémon they’ll stumble upon, they get to watch their collection of Pokémon grow, and it makes otherwise boring activities fun.

The key to getting employees interested in a wellness program is making healthy activities fun. For example, you could host a lunch break cooking class where employees learn how to cook a healthy meal and then enjoy it together afterwards.

Pokémon Go can be a great model for health and wellness campaigns, so next time you need some inspiration, try one or two of these out… or maybe even catch ‘em all.

How can employers add incentive to a wellness program?

Health reform may create an opportunity for employers contemplating new or expanded wellness programs. In the latest issue of Benefits Perspectives, Sharon Stocker examines keys to creating a valuable program, with an emphasis on effective communications to ensure employee engagement and participation.

Here’s an excerpt:

1. Understand Your Audience
The goal of health promotion is behavior change, and reversing unhealthy habits that may have been built over many years is not easy. An effective change strategy calls for knowing your audience—what motivates them, potential obstacles, and tools they need for support.

Surveys and focus groups are a useful way to uncover what is most relevant for your employees and their families. (Involving family members is critical – dependent healthcare costs are a sizable factor.) Once the top areas of need and interest are clear, as well as potential barriers to participation, you can target strategies to address them.

Asking for opinions and input serves another important purpose – nurturing a sense of pride and ownership in the program. The most engaging communication is interactive, with ideas and information flowing both ways.

Be sure to clearly state survey/focus group objectives from the outset, letting employees know how the research will be used. You don’t want to imply sweeping changes unless that’s your intent. Acknowledge the value of their input and be serious about acting on the results—or risk having disgruntled employees.

2. Create and Promote a Brand That is Uniquely Yours
The best brands inspire recognition, enthusiasm, and loyalty. Once you have a positive, action-oriented campaign, branding it will help the program capture—and keep—people’s attention.

Your wellness program name and graphic look should align with and reflect the organization’s identity and values. You want to infuse the program with a sense of excitement so that people want to be a part of it. Engage employees and invite participation from the start by having a contest, with healthy prizes, to name the program.

A strong brand also conveys commitment, sending a message that the program is here to stay and worth attention as well as involvement.

To read the entire article, click here.

Bigger carrots, bigger sticks: PPACA and wellness incentives

Bloomberg recently reported on one of the less-discussed elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): the way the law increases the ceiling on incentives and penalties employers can use to encourage participation in wellness programs. The incentives and penalties come in the form of premium increases or discounts. Formerly limited by HIPAA to 20% of premium, the PPACA raises the limit to 30% and leaves the door open to 50% in the future. Financial incentives and penalties can be used in both participation-based (join the gym) and outcomes-based (meet a BMI target) programs.

In the article, a pair of researchers from Georgetown University claim that these incentives, if poorly designed, could end up costing less-healthy workers more and potentially even driving them out of employer-sponsored plans. On the other hand, wellness plan administrators say they make sense as they reduce risk to employers. In any case, employers will want to weigh the implementation of these incentives carefully against the return on investment (ROI) from wellness programs. If less-healthy employees are discouraged from using their health benefits because of high deductibles or a switch to less benefit-rich plans because of high premiums, they may be more likely to let health issues linger until they become more critical and costly.

Milliman consultants have examined the issue of wellness programs from a number of perspectives. Kathryn Fitch and Bruce Pennyson published an article in Benefits Quarterly that covers the breadth of wellness programs, the evidence base for them, how employers should target candidates, and reasonable success criteria. In an interview, Fitch also talked about lessons learned from wellness programs in the private sector. And, Scott Weltz discussed how companies can use evidence-based measures to look at wellness program effectiveness in the early years of implementation when ROI data are very hard to come by.

Benchmarking preventive care utilization

Under the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), all health plans (other than those that choose to remain grandfathered) will be required to provide preventive services without copays, coinsurance, or other cost sharing. Although there is no way to tell exactly how the PPACA requirements will affect preventive care trends, it is safe to say that use of preventive services overall is likely to increase. This paper discusses existing preventive care utilization rates and compares them to a calculation of the recommended utilization rates.

Obesity estimated to carry $300 billion economic cost

A new study released today by the Society of Actuaries estimates $300 billion in economic costs associated with obesity in the United States and Canada. Here is an excerpt from the release:

According to a new study released today by the Society of Actuaries (SOA), the total economic cost of overweight (BMI between 25.0–29.9) and obesity (BMI of more than 30) in the U.S. and Canada reaches $3001 billion per year, with 90 percent of the total–$270 billion–attributed to the U.S. While much research has been conducted on obesity, the SOA study looked at the economic costs of overweight and obesity caused by increased need for medical care, and loss of economic productivity resulting from excess mortality and disability.

Mobilizing around diabetes?

We have talked before about diabetes. Today, the Task Force for the National Conference on Diabetes issued a diabetes-related call to action:

The Call to Action seeks to address diabetes prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management, as well as to identify the practices and resources required to meet the needs of people with, and at risk for, diabetes,” said Steve Edelman, M.D., a practicing endocrinologist and Founder and Director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, one of the members of the Task Force.

Diabetes currently affects nearly 24 million people in the U.S.(1) and is expected to reach 32 million by 2031.(2) (p.2,l.81-2) Modeling by Milliman, an actuarial firm, indicates that diabetes-related costs could increase from 10 percent of U.S. health expenditures in 2011 ($340 billion) to 15 percent by 2031 ($1.6 trillion).(2) (p.2,l.90-2)

Read more here.