virgin healthmiles hits refresh: free-ranging conversation with katie tierney

November 30, 2011

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators),reviews: products, services, books


back in april 2011, i spoke with tom abshire about virgin healthmiles’ pay-for-prevention approach. since our conversation, virgin’s added several new features to their platform that benefit employee and employer alike. they released an integrated incentives platform in their summer ‘11 release and enhanced social features in their fall ‘11 one. i caught up with katie tierney, virgin’s director of marketing, to learn more about both.

fm: your fall ‘11 release includes several new features. one, connections, allows employees to build social support networks. can you explain how connections works?
kt: social’s always been a key element of what we do, but now with connections we’ve created a network that’s secure and members-only. employers can make it possible for employees to create groups around common activities and interests within their organization, and they can also open their network to virgin healthmiles’ entire member network. employers can add connections to their existing programs too. for example, employers can create a group specifically for their employees participating in a tobacco cessation program or use connections to augment their health coaching service. their health coaches can create groups and offer one-to-many health coaching in addition to their one-to-one support.

fm: when i spoke with tom in april, you were starting to explore employers’ interest in opening their networks to others in their industry or geography. does connections reflect that employers are ready? how are your client companies using connections: open or closed?
kt: in many cases we’re finding clients are immediately opening their networks. they want to drive even higher engagement in their programs, so they want employees to connect with others outside their organization yet within this members-only social health community. others are taking a more conservative approach and rolling connections out within their organizations first. it’s flexible. we leave the decision in the hands of our clients.

fm: what sorts of groups are employees forming?
kt: we only recently released connections, so we’ll be able to share more stories over the next few months. right now, we’re seeing employees form groups around sports, nutrition, healthy recipe exchanges, locations, walking clubs. one that caught my attention is for single mothers. it focuses on how they’re finding time to exercise and be healthy.

what’s really exciting is to see how members are responding. in just a month’s time, we’ve seen members make more than 84,000 friends, form nearly 3,000 different groups, and post nearly 6,000 status updates or comments. since the launch of connections, we’ve seen more than a 100% increase in the number of challenges members are creating and running themselves at any given time.

fm: you also announced something called “active minutes.” what’s this?
kt: active minutes helps employers keep things simple with one program that fits all fitness levels. with active minutes, employees can earn rewards for any activity they do while using our pedometer or other compatible activity-tracking device, such as a polar heart rate monitor. some employees might prefer to do 15 minutes of vigorous activity versus 30 minutes of moderate activity like walking. either way, their activity rate is validated and automatically uploaded into our system. we’re also looking at additional devices so people can use the tool that works best for them.

fm: how is active minutes different from virgin’s level system, where employees move from level one to level five, slowly increasing their activity level and earning points as they go?
kt: active minutes actually works with our levels program. active minutes offer employees another way to track their activity–specifically, more vigorous workouts–and track them in real-time and over time. if they’re participating in and tracking vigorous activity, they’ll progress through the levels and earn rewards even faster.

fm: with your summer ‘11 release, you announced integrated incentives and better data reporting. can you refresh our memory on what these offer?
kt. with summer ‘11, we wanted to focus on providing employers with a streamlined way to integrate and promote their multiple employee health programs and to give them the information they need to know their impact. what we introduced was integrated incentives and a real-time reporting portal. with integrated incentives, employers can decide what programs to integrate into our platform, even when they’re from different providers.

say an employee earns $100 for completing his or her health risk assessment , $50 for a biometrics screening and a day off for smoking cessation—and all are through different providers. with integrated incentives, we provide one central location where employers can promote and manage all these programs and employees can see all the earning opportunities available to them. then with real-time reporting, we provide information on utilization rates, physical activity levels, incentives earned and redemption trends from all these different programs and vendors, and we can segment this information based on age groups, departments, locations, etc.


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