Digital Wellness Program Saw High Member Engagement After COVID-19

By Kelsey Waddill

– Blue Shield of California witnessed a major uptick in member engagement with its app-based wellness program when the coronavirus pandemic started, highlighting the growing importance of digital solutions for wellness programming.

Blue Shield of California partnered with Wellvolution in July 2019 to give members access to personalized, digital wellness programming. The platform matched each member with a provider based on the member’s wellness goals and fused both digital and brick-and-mortar wellness programming options across 60 apps and 30,000 community sites.

For certain chronic conditions, the payer also incorporated value-based payment grounded in member outcomes.

However, no programs formed in mid-2019 could have accounted for the impending global pandemic.

“Our providers quickly pivoted when the pandemic began and have adapted their strategies and approaches to address the reality of being indoors for hours each day and with potentially limited access to fresh foods and outdoor exercise,” said Bryce Williams, vice president of mind body medicine at Blue Shield of California.

After the initial coronavirus outbreak, member engagement with the program increased tenfold. Members communicated more with online coaches.

Apart from the pandemic-related surge in member engagement, the first year of the program yielded other data around member demographics and preferences.

“We know that people want options in improving their health, depending on their personal preferences,” Williams emphasized.

The program saw a total of 23,500 members enroll in the first year.

For many members, the goal in joining was to lose weight. Others were looking to increase their level of activity, decrease stress levels, and improve their healthy eating habits. Over half connected with high-acuity programs for chronic conditions or specific health needs, such as diabetes or diminishing prescription drug needs.

According to Blue Shield of California’s survey results, some members saw progress in losing weight. In the first half-year alone—months before the pandemic took hold of the US—Blue Shield of California found that 13,000 participants said they lost a net total of 83,000 pounds.

Six out of ten members who signed up because of a specific health condition were looking for weight management support. Of these, a little over three in ten reached their goal of five percent weight loss.

Of the 30 percent of enrollees who joined a chronic disease prevention program specific to diabetes, 27 percent hit achieved a positive member outcome.

Ten percent of those who enrolled engaged in diabetes treatment. Of these, over four in ten participants hit a positive clinical outcome, including some members who reversed their type 2 diabetes.

Most enrollees were between 50 and 59 years of age, with a significant majority of the members being women (72 percent).

The pandemic has influenced many payer wellness programming strategies.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, for example, took its regular fitness classes online through Facebook Live. Other payers launched a YouTube video series for seniors about various wellness topics and partnered with athletes to spread awareness about pursuing fitness during the pandemic.

Many of these programs may prove essential for members navigating chronic disease management during quarantine. Innovations in remote chronic disease management have continued even as the lockdowns start to lift.

For example, UnitedHealthcare recently announced its own digital approach to chronic disease management for diabetes through Level2, which is part of UnitedHealth Group’s research and development division.

Level2 implements a continuous glucose monitor—usually used for type 1 diabetes—to track metrics related to type 2 diabetes and help members identify solutions in the case of a blood sugar spike or drop.

Certainly, the pandemic is not the only instigator of change. The digital evolution of wellness programming and chronic disease management were already underway when coronavirus hit, as evidenced by Wellvolution’s July 2019 start date.

But the member engagement spike for Blue Shield of California is just one data point in a growing corpus pointing to the increased reliance on digital and telehealth solutions during this time.