Sramana Mitra: Let me see if I got this right. Is this a product for consumers, or is this a prevention-oriented health care product for the internal Virgin employee base?
Tom Abshire: This [comprises] technologies, tools and engagement programming that we sell to better enable employers, such as Sun Trust Bank or Coca-Cola to get better cost control of the health care expenses they incur by treating the health care issue as a consumer health problem. One of the big challenges these companies have is they have a lot of different programs they provide for their employees, but engagement is always an issue. Many times, in health and wellness, companies would see at best 15% of their employees taking advantage of these programs. What we’ve found it that it’s really a consumer problem. Instead of treating the person as being sick or as just an employee, you treat them as a consumer. They’re making decisions about where they spend their time and their focus, and we want to make it a win-win for the employer and employee, to find the program that has the most value and make sure they can complete those programs and better maintain their health.
SM: So, basically, you’re selling the product to large employers who have large numbers of employees who need to practice preventive healthcare and healthy lifestyles and so forth. This is the product that helps them engage their employee base.
TA: Exactly. We can identify the problem of awareness participation and visibility into what’s happening to the population. A large part of that problem is derived from a single issue that for most employers and the providers that they use, all these different programs are created as silos. They don’t share engagements. They don’t have a common language or experience for the users. They don’t share data. We’ve found that by taking the three pillars that we’ve built around the programs that we provide, which are motivation, measurements, and then using that data to manage health and wellness outcomes, we can apply that model across the entire range of programs. What we really are doing in that regard is creating a unified, easy-to-use user experience across multiple programs so employees or consumers can use the tools we provide, which range from game mechanics to social networking tools, challenges to actually encourage and drive participation toward completion in this program so people who need to learn more about nutrition can complete those programs and receive incentives for it. People who need to be active every day clearly understand what’s required of them for good health, and they can achieve those goals. By having those game mechanics and understanding and awareness of which groups of employees are interested and engaged in their programs, we can share information that spans different programs to help employers understand what parts of their health and wellness strategies are working and where they need to provide more attention.
For example, maybe I just had a cohort of 50 employees complete a smoking cessation program; what’s happening to their weight gain six months later? Are they maintaining a healthy weight, or do they now have weight problems because they’re substituting food for nicotine?
SM: What you’re describing is, essentially, what’s driving a lot of the enterprise computing trends, the consumerization of information. Give me a few more use cases from your product’s footprint and how you use social media in this context, how you use gaming in this context. Gameification is another trend, right? If you could, highlight some use cases of enforcing healthy behavior in your customer base’s employees.
TA: The elements of gameification, elements of social, mobile access through smartphones, all of those things are key to us. By viewing the problem as a consumer problem, you shift your idea from being, I need to go force or educate these people to make a change to, How do I motivate individuals? How do I bring them along to be internally motivated? Instead of saying, I need to provide information, you think about how you provide opportunities to motivate someone who’s going to be motivated differently from some other employee or who might be motivated by different things on different days. It’s a lot more about discovery and motivation than just telling people what good health looks like.
For example, I’ll start with social networking tools. We’ve been layering in social networking and social tools into our product for years now. A lot of that was done by creating a social element to challenges. For groups of employees across an entire employer base, you can do a challenge for physical activity or getting the correct amount of fruits and vegetables each day. It brings some camaraderie and some competition. Challenges are great motivators. You know, sometimes, just knowing I’ve got a leader board that I want to advance on or some peers whom I want to impress. It’s a great way to motivate and increase levels of things like physical activity. One of the elements we added with that was we created a challenge wizard that allowed individual employees to create their own challenges and invite their peers into those challenges. They select their own prizes, and we manage the communications, and even give them a way to communicate with each other about the challenges through online messaging. In that way, at any point, we have roughly 2,000 employee- or consumer-run challenges going on in the community, typically bringing in six or seven other employees into the mix. So, at any point, 12,000 or 15,000 people are really engaging themselves in good health. That’s been really successful for us, really inspirational.