Harnessing Social for Vital Living

Vitality is a program that rewards people for making healthy lifestyle choices. Social is next on their list of innovations.

South Africa-headquartered Discovery is a financial and health services company. It offers an innovative program called Vitality. Vitality rewards people for making healthy lifestyle choices. Did you get a weight assessment and reach your weight goal at WeightWatchers? Get 5,000 points. Did you purchase HealthyFood meals? They’re worth 750 points. Did you go for your annual mammogram? You’ve just earned 2,500 points. Participants can redeem these points for rewards – such as having the registration fee waived at Curves along with a subsidized monthly fee, or a discount of up to 35% on British Airways or Emirates flights, or discounted tickets to movies.

Programs such as these have been talked about for years, but they haven’t hit the mainstream. With 1.5 million or 67% of all Discovery life and health plan participants in South Africa and a growing 600,000 in the USA, 250,000 in the UK, and a launch in China coming next year, Vitality aims to change that.

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Vitality has helped its health insurance parent Discovery, lower hospitalization costs by 10% among highly engaged plan participants across cardio-vascular diseases. In addition to lowering costs by modifying risk factors for diseases, Vitality also delivers revenue through subscription fees. Not only are a growing number of people intrinsically motivated to make healthier choices, but they are willing to pay a monthly premium of about $15 for them.

Alan Pollard Vitality Alpa Agarwal

Plan participants like monetary rewards. Most popular among them are subsidized gym memberships, healthy packaged foods, travel, movies and electronics. However, Vitality’s CEO, Alan Pollard believes that the social environment is very important for healthy living. Discovery is therefore next looking at integrating social features into its program.

When making a date with a friend, do you plan a hike or brunch? Pollard believes that if your social network, including your employer, plan healthy choices, you develop healthier habits. For example, to celebrate team success, do you take your team tree-planting or do you go for Happy Hour? “Social is a great opportunity that is yet to be tapped,” believes Pollard. “And, it goes beyond your family and friend networks, to more importantly your network at the office.” Employers play a very important role according to Pollard, as “people do things in groups.” This is why corporations are becoming more active in offering health services such as screenings or vaccinations at work. Not only do they make it convenient for their employees, but when your colleagues sign up, you tend to follow their lead.

Vitality is also looking at social gaming features such as leaderboards. How do you rank against people similar to you in age or other characteristics? Can Vitality tell you that 10% of people rank better than you, worse than you, or the same as you?

Pollard also wants to enable Vitality plan participants to connect with each other based on shared interests, so they can do things together such as go for a hike or play a sport.

And does it help to make commitments to one’s social network of one’s healthy lifestyle goals? Pollard believes so, and Vitality plans to integrate pledges into its service soon. While I have received an email pledge from a friend, why have I yet to read one on my Facebook news feed? Pollard will have to closely consider circles of friendship, but if Vitality succeeds with its pioneering approach, it will have created a sea change in our lives.

Discovery CEO Adrian Gore talks about Vitality’s Pioneering Approach to Health Care

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.