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Blue Shield of California targets wellness goals through personalized health platform

New approach seeks to improve lifestyle choices and outcomes by steering members toward "best fit" health apps and providers.

Insurer Blue Shield of California is revamping its wellness program by introducing a personalized, curated approach to help members improve and maintain their health through lifestyle choices.

Called Wellvolution, the program is not new, but a new platform has been designed to match members enrolled in Blue Shield's fully-insured employer-sponsored plans and its individual and family plans with specific, recommended digital therapeutic providers and mobile health apps.

The recommendations--which are made based on each individual member's stated interests, health goals or medical conditions--are taken from a curated list of nearly 70 digital health programs that were vetted by Blue Shield of California to ensure the approaches use evidence-based methods and scientific principles.

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Additionally, the program offers members free or discounted access to more than 30,000 brick-and-mortar health and lifestyle services--such as gyms, community centers and companies such as Weight Watchers--and seeks to steer them to the resources that will fit them best.

In both cases, members see a list of recommended options based on their answers to a survey. If they don't like any of the recommendations, they can search for other providers offered by the program, and can switch to new providers if their initial choices aren't a good match.

The revised program was created in collaboration with Solera Health.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Wellvolution's relaunch was driven largely by evidence suggesting that workplace wellness programs simply aren't delivering on their promises of better outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

"Traditional wellness programs are clearly dead--too costly and ineffective--yet the zombie health management program epidemic continues. Enough already," said Bryce Williams, vice president of lifestyle medicine at Blue Shield.

One factor contributing to wellness programs' problems could be that the sheer number of choices -- currently there are more than 320,000 consumer health apps available online -- can be overwhelming. By winnowing down the options and then recommending specific options around members' needs, Blue Shield of California hopes to put members on a sustainable path to better health outcomes.

What's more, the new program will hold those wellness providers accountable for delivering results. According to a statement from Blue Shield of California, "Because the programming is scientifically backed and the network is built on performance, vendor partners who provide the digital apps are held accountable for producing results through monthly reports that track app downloads, member engagement, and other metrics that determine their success in helping members achieve positive outcomes. "

THE LARGER TREND

Providers are being asked to do more outside of the traditional role of healthcare, as value-based programs require them to look at other factors  impacting health. Addressing the social determinants of health through housing, food and transportation has helped keep patients out of the emergency room and from being readmitted to the hospital. This has created better patient outcomes and has saved hospitals money.

In addition, wellness programs are seen as a way to curb chronic conditions, prevent unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and keep members to a healthy weight. Changing behavior remains a challenge for providers, payers and employers that are offering numerous incentives to stay well.

More than 80 percent of companies with more than 200 workers offer wellness programs, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most offer ways for members to address issues such as: sleep quality; stress management; physical activity; diet and nutrition; tobacco cessation;  cardio-metabolic disease prevention such as diabetes and heart disease; and chronic condition reversal.

Despite such offerings, healthcare spending for individuals with employer-sponsored insurance has hit an all-time high.

ON THE RECORD

"With Wellvolution, Blue Shield members and their families can now meaningfully utilize lifestyle to meet their health needs whether they're trying to reverse disease such as diabetes or simply get a better night sleep, and it won't cost them a penny more," Williams said.

Mark Klimek is an independent writer and editor with 20 years' experience covering financial issues, healthcare and more.