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How Can Wellness Programs Improve to Boost Patient Motivation?

Two recent studies provide insights into patient motivation and engagement in wellness programs.

By Sara Heath

- Understanding what motivates patients to improve their health and wellness remains a long-standing challenge for providers. Investigating patient wellness programs may be key to understanding the truth behind patient motivation.

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Two recent studies, one conducted by HealthMine and the other by Welltok and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), discuss wellness programs and the way in which patients participate in them.

Financial incentives spur healthy behavior in patients

The HealthMine survey specifically looked into the way financial incentives motivate patients to participate in targeted wellness paths, like weight loss programs or smoking cessation programs. Overall, patients reported that most wellness programs do not financially reward certain health improvement and preventative care tasks.

Over 80 percent of respondents said their programs do not reward disease management and medication adherence activities, as well as cancer screenings. Only 44 percent of patients reported that their programs offer incentives for quitting smoking.

However, when patients are offered financial incentives, 41 percent report low earnings. This is because several patients do not engage in a suggested health action.

The reasons for this are manifold. Nearly half of patients say they are already doing what they need to in order to improve their health. Another quarter say they need even more reminders to participate in the activity or that the activity was too time-consuming. Twenty percent of respondents said the health activity was not meaningful to them.

Lower wellness program participation may also be due to a lack of relevant incentive offerings. The survey found that most patients preferred cash as an incentive for wellness program participation, followed by insurance premium credits and gift cards.

However, patients report that their wellness programs do not offer cash incentives as frequently, with insurance premium discounts and gift cards being the most popular form of incentive. Only 20 percent of patients reported receiving cash incentives from their wellness programs.

According to HealthMine’s president and CEO Bryce Williams, this data indicates that wellness programs need to remodel how they incentivize healthy behavior.

"Behavior change is hard and requires frequent reinforcement. Incentives can play an important role in the adoption or transformation of health behaviors. But, the design and delivery of an incentive is often more important than its size." He continued, "Successful wellness programs offer a combination of dynamic incentives--including variable rewards and loss aversion."

Effective wellness programs require personalization

Employer-sponsored wellness programs may also need reshaping, the Welltok and NGBH survey found. In a survey of 1,000 full-time employees in work-sponsored programs, Welltok and NGBH found that these programs require personalization.

Thirty-seven percent of non-participants reported such because the program was not relevant to their health needs, and another 20 percent reported that they did not know about the program. Through better personalization, employees may be more motivated and more likely to learn of a relevant program.

The survey also gleaned insights into how employers can approach this personalization process. Understanding how rewards affect participation for different ages and income levels, for instance, will help employers design programs for employees new and old.

Ninety-eight percent of younger employees, for instance, reported being extremely motivated by financial incentives, while those incentives were only attractive to about 85 percent of older employees.

Younger employees also respond better to their direct bosses and colleagues when it comes to motivation. Older employees respond better to messages from human resources.

Executives from NGBH explain that this data indicates a need for more personalized wellness programs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

"The 'one size fits all' approach to communications, however, has proven ineffective in engaging employees and engagement is now the number one challenge facing employers,” said NGBH president and CEO Brian Marcotte.

“Personalization is the key and there are emerging engagement platforms and point solutions that show great promise in driving and sustaining engagement by leveraging data, predictive analytics and technology to reach people with personalized, timely, relevant and actionable information."

Going forward, wellness programs must recognize their key role in boosting patient engagement and improving population health management. However, in using research like that described above, wellness programs can reshape their priorities in order to make them most effective for patients.

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