Digital Insurance Agenda

Creating real impact with Health and Well-being programmes

Written by Roger Peverelli and Reggy de Feniks - Founders The DIA Community on Jul 2, 2021

We’ve recently organized a Virtual Round Table with Virgin Pulse on Health & Well-being programmes. There is a growing interest for these programmes from both the insurers’ and consumers’ perspective. But what’s involved in creating real impact with these programmes and how do you make these programmes activating and engaging for customers?

At DIA, we organize these Round Tables on a regular basis, to talk about opportunities and new developments in insurance, but also to share experiences and learnings, all aimed towards accelerating innovation in insurance. At this Round Table on Health and Well-being programmes, we spoke with Virgin Pulse’s Director of Partnerships and Strategic Alliances, Ludovic Pureur, and Thomas Hach, Director Healthcare Systems at Novartis. We also heard from Alice Sanders, Director of Health Strategy and Consultation at Health insurer Medica, based in the United States.

Introducing Virgin Pulse
Virgin Pulse was founded 17 years ago by Sir Richard Branson, based on the founding principle : ‘If you take care of your employees and your clients, they will take care of your business’. Virgin Pulse provides a mobile-first well-being solution that instils healthy habits to help an organization’s workforce achieve long-term health and productivity results. Virgin Pulse is a behavioural change company that helps people change and maintain their health habits. With 10 offices around the globe and 4000 clients, they have already changed millions of lives.

Health & Well-being programme important differentiator for Health Insurer Medica
Alice Sanders, Director of Health Strategy and Consultation at Health insurer Medica in the United States, shared Medica’s experience with their Health & Well-being programme. Medica has worked with Virgin Pulse since 2015, providing their Heath & Well-being programme to their customers. Alice stated: “We know that supporting behaviour change and then rewarding members for engaging in healthy lifestyles can ultimately reduce progression to chronic conditions. We appreciate the flexibility of Virgin Pulse to provide a solution that can be personalized for each customer, taking into account their employee culture and preferences, and then create an experience that is unique and meet customers where they’re at.”

Medica’s customers have had significant success leveraging the Health and Well-being programme. A good example is one of Medica’s customers, who introduced their Virgin Pulse programme about five years ago. They have seen an increase in their low risk population from around 70 percent, to now 85 percent. Alice: “This is a really big win for our customer. As an insurer, we know that risk directly correlates to the cost of those employees in terms of their medical plan.”

Offering a strong Health & Well-being programme is not only helping Medica’s customers make their people healthier and reducing risk and costs as a result. It is also helping Medica differentiate themselves from their competitors in terms of member experience, technology and having a holistic approach to well-being, beyond the traditional health plan focus. “Our offering with Virgin Pulse is actually seen as a really rich benefit, when it’s held up against our competitors’ offering.” says Alice.


Keep people engaged with rewards
One of the key challenges in making Health & Well-being programmes work is the activation and continued engagement of the participants. Offering rewards – and the right type of rewards – plays an important role. Virgin Pulse has found that the most important quantitative predictors of enrolment are monetary rewards (Cash, non-cash for personal use or donation depending of the region in the world), a free device offered to members and communication about the programme. Running specific enrolment activation campaigns is also crucial in increasing enrolment and activation. Free devices, such as activity trackers, and monetary rewards are important in making sure that people actually use the programme and stay engaged. Another important predictor of engagement is an “easy level 1”. There are different levels within most Health & Well-being programmes, and Virgin Pulse has found that an “easy” level 1 creates success early on, which keeps members motivated and engaged.

Addressing the right people with the right content is key
Ludovic emphasized that Virgin Pulse’s most successful clients are the ones that consider their Health and Well-being programmes as a strategic initiative, not just a nice marketing incentive. But even companies who see their programme as a strategic priority, still face the challenge of how to positively influence people to change their behaviour, especially those that may be reluctant or not interested. Thomas shared a story about a type two diabetes patient, who had to change his health habits. Multiple conversations about diet and exercise, kidney complications and insulin shots failed to change the man’s behaviour. Unexpectedly, the idea to get a family dog did result in a big change. Getting a dog made the man walk around the block every day. He lost weight, looked happier and was a lot healthier. Sometimes, all you need is something more personalized, and though you won’t find a dog in a medical textbook, it was the perfect solution for this person to make him change his habits.

Ludovic agreed: “One size definitely doesn’t fit all, and this principle of trying a different approach to focus on the right behaviour and moving people to take the first step towards long term behaviour change is really key. We have found that you can distinguish three different groups when it comes to Health & Well-being and that each of these groups requires a different strategy and approach. About 15 percent of the population are considered to be Health Strikers. These are people who are very aware of their health and health habits. About 60 percent of the population are Health Seekers; they are looking for a healthier lifestyle, but struggle to fit it into their daily routines, for example due to lack of time. The third group are Health Sceptics, between 15-20 percent. These are the people that may not be aware of, or do not believe in the positive outcomes that healthier behaviour might have on them. Addressing the right people with the right communication and the right content is the absolute key to achieve change.”

Every phase requires a different focus and different metrics
Once a Health & Well-being programme is in place, how do you measure the impact – and what can you expect? It may take a while for results to materialize, but ultimately a well-run Health & Well-being programme will lead to better productivity and reduced health costs. Ludovic: “True, it may take a while to see the impact. This is why we run analyses like for example absenteeism after one, two and three years to see the improvements over time. It takes time to see the effects of change.” Every phase (see image below) requires a different focus and different metrics. Everything starts with behaviour change. The first outcomes – well-being behaviours & activities – can be measured by for example sleep activity and quality and physical activity. In the next phase well-being outcomes such as reduced BMI and blood pressure can be measured. This will turn into direct cost savings such as reduced absenteeism and claims. Which finally turns into a better business performance and higher productivity.


Healthier people increase productivity benefits
So what are some of the results you can expect to achieve with Health & Well-being programmes? Ludovic: “We have seen that with several clients, we can improve physical activity across the population, driving down absenteeism by 18 percent after two years – an impressive result.”

Virgin Pulse data shows that members who reach higher programme levels, take off less unscheduled time overall. Also, claims are lower for members than for non-members in 2-3 years post-launch. On average, Virgin Pulse members reduce claims by 4%-39%. An impressive 68% of people that were inactive before, have been shown to increase their activity since joining the Virgin Pulse programme, and 50% of members with a BMI higher than 30, reduced their BMI since joining Virgin Pulse. According to Virgin Pulse, members are also twice as likely to be promoted at work.


Health & Well-being programmes: a win-win-win for customers, companies and insurers
Health & Well-being programmes can make a big difference in people’s lives. Programmes that take into account different people’s needs and have the flexibility to adjust to those different needs, can really help drive change. Leading to positive outcomes for individual participants in terms of better health and happiness – but also in positive results for participating companies and insurers, such as lower absenteeism, reduced claims and direct cost savings. A real win-win-win situation for consumers, companies and insurers!

Interested to learn more about Virgin Pulse? Click here for more information!

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