What makes a successful digital wellness tool?

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What makes wellness work? It boils down to a combination of things, including individuality, consumer engagement and, of course, embracing digital technology. Those were some of the main takeaways from a group of industry experts who spoke last week about digital wellness tools at the Dig|Benefits conference in Austin.

“[The goal is to] capture more and more information while driving long-term engagement,” said Cedric Hutchings, co-founder and CEO of Withings. “It’s all about deploying the right user experience.”

Of course, creating the right user experience takes some work. Here are some tips to consider, according to the experts, when implementing workplace wellness tools.

Take a holistic approach. “ROI is so old-school,” said Brian Berchtold, vice president, sales and marketing, at hubbub health. “We need to figure out how to create engaged employees. Yes, there are apps [and that’s important], but there has to be a holistic approach. The No. 1 thing we can do is [figure out how to] get people moving right now.”

Give wellness to employees where they want it. Consider this: Nearly half of our waking hours are spent on our smartphones. So why not use that time to promote health? Mobile apps that encourage healthy living by tracking user information or doling out health and wellness tips are sure to engage workers, said Maayan Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Hello Heart, an app that encourages users to measure and record their blood pressure. Smartphones have much higher accessibility rates than desktop computers, she added.

Individuality is key. There is no one-size-fits-all to wellness, Berchtold said, and employers should try a combination of different methods. Hutchings agreed. “Not one solution fits all; not everyone has a competitive lifestyle and is motivated by competition,” Hutchings said. “Some are much more motivated by gamification aspects. [You should have technology] that builds different solutions.”

Share health data. Employees are not going to fully understand or care about their health if they do not have access to their health data. Cohen’s app, for example, allows users to access their health information and test results. And, she says, the company makes comprehension easy by using basic emojis — happy or sad faces, for example — so people know what their numbers mean.

Focus on healthy habits, small steps. Wellness doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — crazy or drastic. Employers should not embrace a “Biggest Loser”-type contest, Berchtold explained, citing a recent New York Times study that found that contestants of the popular reality TV show regained the weight after the program. “The radical change didn’t work, and their lifestyle didn’t support it,” he said. Instead, employers can think about offering healthy snacks in the workplace, having meetings where employees are standing or walking and encouraging employees to bring wellness home, by, for example, taking an evening walk at home with their dog.

Tweak it. Don’t just create a wellness tool or program and be done with it. Consider wellness as an ongoing journey, said Robby Knight, senior manager of product development, growth and innovation, Walmart Health & Wellness. “We continue to tweak [our program] and see what works best with our customers.”

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