Crossing the Well-being Chasm: Why we Need a Health Score
by Matt Park
The Well-being Chasm
If we look at “engagement” in well-being as a journey – from initial engagement, to crossing the chasm, to complete “ownership” of one’s own health, then it would help us understand what needs to happen at different stages of the journey, as well as how a new tool could help keep employees on the right path across the chasm. There are three stages of this journey: 1) Understanding your health; 2) Improving your health; 3) Owning your health.
Understanding Your Health – Part of the problem is that health is incredibly complex. Even though the focus on holistic health has increased and the direct impact to one’s health from exercise, sleep, nutrition, stress and mental well-being are no secret, it is almost impossible to know immediately how a poor night’s sleep has affected one’s physical health. And, when continuous bad habits do manifest themselves as a symptom or disease, it is often too late to do anything about it except to take medication. What if there was a way to inform you immediately how such behaviors improved or worsened your health and by how much?
Improving Your Health – Most people would say “yes” when asked, “Would you like to improve your health?” And most people know already what good eating and exercise habits look like. So why is it so hard to stick with it? One answer is that the benefits of new healthy lifestyle behaviors don’t necessarily show up right away. You don’t lose weight nor lower your blood pressure with every workout or healthy meal. Without immediate positive reinforcement, it is very difficult to stick with changing your own habits. But what if there was a way to see your health improving with every one of your healthy activities?
Owning Your Health – In order to cross the chasm to full ownership, you will need to feel a sense of empowerment; an understanding of how you can control your health, and a belief that you can make it happen. In order to achieve this, you will need constant, meaningful feedback to teach you how your own behaviors are influencing your health every day.
The Health Score
To help people along the road cross the chasm, we need a health score. Everyone understands a score. Look at any aspect of life from the time we are children – we are used to measuring everything: height, age, test scores, the temperature, sports scores, etc. These are simple measurements – single numbers that let us know how we are doing and who’s winning. But, health is complex and confusing – we need a health score to simplify it. In fact, there are some health scores in use today, just that they are not designed to inform and enlighten individual users.
In October 2016, an article appeared in Bloomberg View titled: We Already Have Health-Risk Scores, Now Let’s Use Them.1 In this article, the authors explain that personal health-risk scores are already being calculated for you by healthcare organizations, but are not very useful to individuals, nor to the overall healthcare system because they lack consistency, transparency, and portability. They also mention that most people know they have a credit score and know where to find it – a good suggestion that the concept of a “credit score” would be a good place to start when thinking about creating a proper, useful health score that could positively impact individuals and the entire healthcare system.
The FICO score, the most commonly used credit scoring system provides a good model for how a similarly complex problem – determining personal creditworthiness – has been solved. These scores have become a ubiquitous tool throughout the financial services sector. FICO lists the following five building blocks of a great credit score:
- Massive Coverage
In 1989, the technology did not exist to collect the data to enable a health score. But, thanks to readily available wearables, monitors, AI, and purposefully designed apps, it is today.
Using the above model, let’s look at what the five building blocks of a great health score need to be:
- Predictive – current health and projected future health.
- Consumer-Centric – allow users to understand the score, what is affecting it, and how they can improve it.
- Trusted – health data is owned by the users and is protected at all times.
- Validated – based on significant medical and scientific research and proven to be accurate.
- Real-time – score changes in real-time, based on one’s holistic health.
Benefits of a Health Score
Creating Long-term Engagement – Remember that everybody loves to keep score. Now with a real-time health score, people will want to check their score every day – and at the same time see how it has changed during the last day. This, in turn, serves as a subtle reminder that they “did this” themselves. They can see immediately the impact that their behaviors are having on their health.
Next, as they receive personal reminders and suggestions based on their health score, they get involved in more ways to improve their health. And, as their score improves, they receive immediate positive reinforcement, encouraging them to stick with it. Over time, this all adds up to a true understanding that they are in control of their health – they own it!
Measuring Well-being – Measuring the ROI of well-being programs is another significant challenge – how do we prove that we are making a positive impact on our employees? Companies try to prove the ROI and VOI on programs by looking at claims, productivity, and absenteeism – all involve complicated analysis. But, what if you could measure the true health impact of your programs immediately with an aggregate population health score? That means you could report on the change in health caused by every event and challenge. You could communicate the health benefits gained on a regular basis and would have data for planning and budgeting for future programs.
When done correctly, the health score becomes the great equalizer across well-being programs – a consistent measure of impact, and a universal way to move people across the well-being chasm!
- Bloomberg View: We Already Have Health-Risk Scores. Now Let’s Use Them., Peter Orzsag and Timothy G. Ferris, Oct 12, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-10-06/we-already-have-health-risk-scores-now-let-s-use-them
- FICO Score: http://www.fico.com/25years/
About the author:
Matt Park is Vice President of dacadoo Americas, Inc. The dacadoo Health Score and digital health platform enable employers to engage employees in active and healthy lifestyles. Matt works with corporations and health plans throughout N. America to help them create unique strategies for the new generation of well-being constituents.