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The Health Plan Market and the Consumer, Part 6: Unlocking Consumer Motivation Through Health Tracking

By Russell Benaroya
The is the final post in a 6-part series. In this post I discuss how technology is enabling consumers to be an active participant in driving down healthcare costs through the use of health tracking apps and devices. Increasing the verifiability of lifestyle data can provide a health plan with the information it needs to be a smarter, consumer-oriented company for the benefit of its members. The key question is what will it take to motivate consumers to act on their own behalf?

Photo by Magnus D
Retail companies that perform best are ones that watch the behaviors of their consumers and adapt their services and products to accommodate. A great example is Amazon and how it personalizes product suggestions based on a customer’s activities and others like them. This creates a highly personalized and valuable experience for the consumer.

Health tracking via mobile apps and devices is enabling this capability for healthcare. If a health plan knows that a member is active, likes to run, has two children, and lives in a particular area, it might build a product that covers 2-3 events per year that promotes the member’s health.

There are hundreds of tracking services that allow people to more easily capture their lifestyle. These include member management software when you check into your gym, devices such as Fitbit and Body Media, apps such as Runkeeper and WeightWatchers.com, and video games like Dance Central on the Xbox Kinect. Tying healthy actions into a health plan relationship can have an extremely positive impact so long as consumers are motivated to make it happen.

The key here is motivation for health plan members to track their activity and see the benefit of doing so. Author Daniel Pink breaks the science of motivation down well (listen to his Ted Talk here). According to Pink, motivation is driven by:

  1. Mastery
  2. Autonomy
  3. Purpose

How does this science apply for health plans and members?

Mastery: Create a feedback loop in which members can see if their actions are consistent with a desired outcome. Celebrating success when things are going well has not traditionally been in the wheelhouse of expertise for health plans, but may go a long way toward differentiating them.

Autonomy: Give members an end point, but let them figure out how to get there. We recommend that health plans move away from an overly prescriptive approach to all but the most expensive members. Given the proliferation of technology services for data tracking, it reasons that consumers have a lot of choice and health plans should be okay letting members decide what works for them.

Purpose: Promote the idea that individual healthy behaviors are part of a collective movement of change where even a small contribution will make an impact. If health plans can show that members’ actions are driving an outcome that will benefit not only them, but also their community then a higher likelihood exists that motivation will endure.

Here are a few recommendations to consider as health plans support member motivation for healthy actions through health tracking apps/devices:

  1. Don’t Bet on a Single One Size Fits All Solution. There are many apps and devices out there that will meet the needs of different people. Let members figure out what works for them and become more of a resource/peer than a teacher/dictator.

  2. Make the Data Actionable. Research shows that adding a financial incentive to a health-tracking app would increase adoption to 87% (up from about 20%). Consider making the data have real out of pocket benefits for the member.

  3. Embed into Members’ Lives Via Mobile and Social. Health plans are well positioned to be an enabler of two major technology trends that drive adoption and influence behavior. What makes mobile/social so powerful is that these technologies and applications are made to embed into the fabric of how consumers already engage. Plugging into existing behaviors of engagement will lower the barriers to adoption.

If health plans can create core values that capture the science of motivation there is a greater likelihood that they will be more successful in engaging their members to exercise, lose weight, and stay healthy.

Read previous posts from our 6-part series on the Health Plan Market and the Consumer:

Posted on February 4, 2013 04:00 PM