During a general session at the Healthcare Marketing Strategies National Summit this week, Thomas Goetz told a great story about engaging health consumers.
It’s the story of Jean Nidetch, a 1960’s housewife who battles with her weight for many years. There’s new research at the time indicating that the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories and become more active. While this is common knowledge today, in the 1960’s this was a revelation.
This new information is so important, in fact, that the New York Department of Health decides to take this new information directly to the public through a series of community meetings and Mrs. Nidetch attends.
While she believes the new information and takes the advice to heart, it simply doesn’t work for her. She’s still unable to maintain these behaviors despite her wish to do so. But Jean decides a different strategy and takes the information that she’s learned to her friends and neighbors. They then begin meeting regularly to give one another advice and support.
This was, as you may have guessed, the founding of Weight Watchers.
What Jean Nidetch discovered was the power of what we now refer to as a feedback loop. Her meetings instituted a few simple steps that are still at the heart of Weight Watchers meetings today:
- Support and encouragement
- Transparency and accountability (the weigh in)
- Repeat every week
It wasn’t enough to have a set of goals. It required a process to support these goals in order to make these changes in her life.
Building on this story, and what Thomas Goetz explores in his book The Decision Tree, is how to empower health consumers to make healthy changes in their lives through technology.
We can do what Jean Nidetch did, but thanks to technology we can roll it out and scale its adoption in ways that we’ve never been able to do in the past.
Weight Watchers online provides a toolset to support members between meetings. Using the online platform in conjunction with in-person meetings is the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off.
Stickk.com uses negative feedback to encourage adherence to goals. Users set goals on the site along with a donation. If you fail to achieve your goal, the money gets donated to an organization that you hate. While not exclusively for health-related goals, it gets lots of health goal usage.
The Nike Fuel Band is an accelerometer that measures your activity throughout the day and can work in conjunction with the Nike+ running system. The strength of the tool is not just in its form factor – a bracelet that is difficult to forget or lose – it also connects to an online portal which uses goals and community membership to encourage users to pursue their fitness objectives.
Basis watch is another wearable tracking device that measures more than just movement to track the quality of your sleep and other biometric indicators. Plus, it’s a watch, and don’t underestimate the power of that to get users to put it on every morning.
From online health portals to accelerometer watches, there is no doubt technology is being used to help us live healthier lives. But, are they working?
According to Goetz, there are four principles technology needs to achieve to really improve our ability to make positive change in our lives:
- Speak to the individual
- Minimize friction
- Allow for failure
- Mark progress
Many of the technologies out there do a great job of this – creating a personalized experience, making adoption easy, creating non-threatening environments and focusing on the all-important measurement, measurement, measurement.
Thanks Mr. Goetz for an interesting session and for telling a great story – and for providing an interesting perspective on how we can use technology to manage population health.