What will be the name of your wellness vendor in 2019?

By Mike Quigg

Considering this week’s news about RedBrick Health and Virgin Pulse being sold to a private equity firm, it felt like an appropriate time to reflect on the past, present, and future of wellness.

It wasn’t long ago that the world identified the real threat posed to us, our companies, and our society overall should the rate of chronic diseases, driven by lifestyle choices, continue at its current pace. Employers recognized that they could play an important role in improving the quality of their employees’ lives and their businesses by improving health.

The premise was simple: assess current health statuses through a health risk assessment or take blood draws to help people understand how good or poor shape they were in.

The logic went: once someone knew their current health status, they would act, right?

Unfortunately, it was never that easy. People are predictably irrational.

Wellness programs had to expand their scope, bringing in technology, incentives and a broadening of what falls under the pillars of health and wellness.

Lots of people were paying attention—with healthcare costs in the U.S. accounting for almost 18% of GDP, poor health is big business. An influx of companies entered the market promising quick ROI’s and easy solutions to solving healthcare problems. From humble and noble beginnings, wellness has become an $8 billion industry

Originally, companies touted health improvement, but ultimately, they could not deliver.  Instead, we’ve seen a shift from a focus on “health” to “corporate culture,” or “employee engagement,” or “benefits navigation hubs.”

Additionally, the wellness industry began to shrink, which leads us to this week’s news. An HR executive investing in wellness must honestly ask themselves, will the vendor they choose or partner with today still be around a year from now?

It appears the good intentions of businesses investing in health and wellness to improve the lives of their people and their businesses are no long what the wellness, engagement and culture vendors are focused on. Rather they are focused on acquiring clients so they can be sold to the next private equity firm at a hefty profit.

There are bright spots. You’ll find companies like Vitality that are focused on smartly designing programs that use clients’ dollars wisely by tailoring the construct to focus on interventions that have the most profound impact on health holistically, thereby impacting the broadest set of the population. Imagine working with a partner who uses the right blend of innovation, science, incentives and technology in a way that delivers improvements in health and business. Clients don’t have to worry about incentive structure, or what things they should have as part of their program, because their partner leverages all the best science, evidence, tech and expertise around the globe, and that focus never shifts from what works. Wouldn’t that be cool? We think so.

There are many companies who plug in cool technology. There are many companies who’ve come up with point structures to recognize people participating. There are lots of challenge platforms and social interactions. The problem is most of these programs aren’t smart or easy to use and they don’t work. They can drive “engagement” that might rival Facebook or Twitter, but it’s a lot of noise that drives little more than momentary instances of fun. And it isn’t making any real impact.

Vitality has been a leader in health improvement from day one. We were the first to link wearable tech to verify engagement in the program. We were the first to link financial incentives to participation. And our latest intervention in tackling physical inactivity, Active Rewards + Apple Watch, is revolutionizing the industry. With every iteration of Vitality, we’ve had one single focus: making people healthier. We’ve done this for more than 20 years globally, and we’re going to continue that mission for the next 20 years, as Vitality.

Mike Quigg, MS, Director of Health Strategy, Vitality

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