Podcast: 2016 Wellness Trends with Abbey Griffin


In this episode of the Well-Being Experts podcast, we’re discussing wellness trends and what’s on the horizon for 2016. We sat down with Abbey Griffin, Director of Product Development at Onlife Health, to talk about factors driving engagement and behavior change, digging beyond just the buzzword definitions to explain what’s happening in corporate wellness settings. With more than 15-year’s experience in health coaching and developing new products, Griffin has a keen awareness of what appeals to individuals and organizations wanting to engage in wellness.

“We can guide our clients on the right design that's going to get the engagement they're looking for at a budget that they can handle.”





Want to dive deeper into this Well-Being Experts podcast? Here's the full transcript from our discussion with Abbey Griffin, Director of Product Development at Onlife Health.


Abbey: Behavior change is interesting and right after school, I was telling them how to manage a condition that could have been prevented. I wanted to take a step back and go into the more proactive role and be preemptive and prevent diabetes and prevent cardiovascular issues and so working with individuals when I was coaching was a way for me to do that.

Host: This is the Well-Being Experts podcast and you just heard from Abbey Griffin, Director of Product Development at Onlife Health. We had the chance to sit down at the end of 2015 to discuss wellness trends and what’s on the horizon for 2016. This included many topics, including engagement.

Abbey: If I had a nickel for every time I heard engagement, I said engagement, I read an article about engagement, I would probably be rich.

Host: On our first episode of the Well-Being Experts podcast, brought to you by Onlife Health, we’re discussing wellness trends for 2016 and factors that drive engagement. But we're digging deeper that just the buzzword definition of "engagement." Abbey Griffin is a fantastic guest because of her expertise here.

Abbey: I am a registered dietitian. I have a master's degree in Nutrition Education, a certification in Adult Weight Management and I have been in the health and wellness industry for 15 years.

Host: She's sharing here the role technology plays in behavior change in these four areas: incentives, wearable device integration into existing internal programs, strategies to effectively sell ideas to senior leaders and, at the end, she shares what we have most to look forward to in 2016.


For more content like this, go to onlifehealth.com/resources. Enjoy the conversation!


Host: I think such a popular topic, going into the new year, especially going to be around technology and fitness trackers and all that. So tell me a little about what you've been working on over the last couple years? What you've been seeing in the marketplace? How's that change just in the two-year span? How's that been changing?

Abbey: Yeah. It's a really great question. I think, even two years, four years ago, I think everyone was familiar with the pedometers and those little gadgets you might get for ten bucks – they break after a couple of months. That was what people knew. And then about two to three years ago, your Fitbits, your Nike Fuelband, your Jawbone, were really starting to come on to the market, gain a lot of traction, consumer appeal; and so, there were three right there. And then there were few others. Misfit was just introducing their first wearable at that time which was specific to swimming, and you saw the trend just happening before your eyes and gain momentum. And so, two years ago we were thinking, "Okay, we know we wanna do something like this."

Wearables solve a lot of problems, eliminates the need for self-reported tracking so the end-user, the consumer, doesn't have to manually input something, so you kinda click it and go. So that eliminated that need. And there were a lot of trackers at different price points, monitoring different types of activities like swimming or running or biking. So we were like, "Okay, let's do all of it." And then we kinda took a step back and wondered how do we do all of it, what's the easiest, most logical way. So we went an agnostic approach. So where you, as a consumer, could use the tracker that works best for you and your lifestyle – your activity preferences, your price point – and went with an agnostic approach where we decided to work with an aggregator to offer over 80 different devices. 

That was a huge ecosystem. We were able to bring in a lot of data, not only for our clients – that verifiable data is key, especially when you start using it in creative ways such as incentives – and then, it appeased the end-consumer, because it wasn't just a health plan wellness product, a health assessment that I had to take every year, it was something that was engaging to people in their everyday lives that they're already using. So it was a great way to kind of solve both problems.

Host: I love that. So there's close to 80 devices right now?

Abbey: Mobile apps and fitness devices. So, your mobile apps, they're still there.

Host: Is it like a “MyFitnessPal"?

Abbey: It could be similar. So it's something like your Moov’s app or Endomondo, or those types of things where the GPS feature of the phone, or the accelerometer, built-in to a lot of, most, smartphones, is what's actually tracking your information and feeding it into the mobile app. So it's still verifiable but it allows us to expand our, let's say our marketplace, to offer even more options for the end-user.

Host: I love that. Okay, so 80 devices, mobiles apps and devices, can fall into that. The bottom line, though, from what I’m hearing from you, it’s a whole bunch, a whole bunch of different ways to capture data. And then that data is now verifiable. And then you talk about incentives. How important are incentives for adjusting what your goals are? Let’s back up even more. What are incentives, generally speaking, as it relates to wellness and health? What are those usually looking like and how have those been changing?

Abbey: Incentives have been around since I've been in the industry. I think that in order to entice someone to start doing something, you need some kind of incentive; whether it's monetary, whether it is a raffle, whether it's a day off. You need something to kind of entice that individual to start using it. I think that's kind of pretty common in a lot of different industries. And so incentives have been a driving force in some of our earlier products. We see, with a higher amount of incentives, whether it's monetary or some other form, you're gonna see higher engagement.

There's also a tipping point with incentives. Over the years of being kind of an expert in this industry when it comes to incentives, we have a lot of data that shows what amount is going to produce the most engagement. So we can kind of guide our clients on the right design that's going to get the engagement they're looking for at a budget that they can handle.

So, incentives is also something that was new. It's been newer over the last couple of years, but I think what we saw a lot of our clients really be more interested in the last year is outcomes-based incentives. So that's a little trickier – that is when you've achieved a healthy status or you are a healthy status, we're going to reward you. And so, with that comes a lot of regulatory – I wouldn’t say constraints, but a lot of – opportunities, to make sure you are offering a fair option to all of your population. So, you want to have, in addition to outcomes-based incentives, activity-based incentives, to give people a wide variety of activities to choose from in order to earn incentives for being healthy.


Well-Being Experts is supported by Onlife Health. With 20 years of industry experience and over 10 million covered lives, Onlife knows how to drive the ongoing engagement needed to create real results. Find out why health plans and large employers nationwide trust Onlife Health as their comprehensive wellness provider. Visit onlifehealth.com to learn more. Alright back to the conversation with Abbey.


Host: What goes into designing the right incentives to impact a culture of health and try to drive the way you wanna go. Like, how do you get started with that? What's the ongoing process look like?

Abbey: That's a great question. I think that a lot of times, to be candid, it does boil down to how much is budgeted for that program. I think that starting early, we, going into the culture of health, Onlife has a culture assessment that we like to use, even pre-sales but early-on, before a program implements, to really understand the culture of the workplace, to do focus groups, to do interviews with the leadership team, to see, not only what kind of programs they'd benefit from or they’d want, but also what kind of incentive structure would compliment that program. And so it's really starting early on and then definitely offering a wide range of activities and actions that people can use. So if someone is more technologically savvy, we would wanna make sure their option is on our mobile app or with the fitness wearable so they can take full advantage of that. But there are some people that really like working one-on-one with one of our health coaches and talking on the phone, so we want to make sure that, if that's what they prefer, that we can incent them on making that healthy choice. So looking at it more holistically.

Host: So with tracking devices and wearable devices, mobile apps – all these things – is there a right kind of data to be looking for to help make sure you're building that into an incentive program or does that vary from organization to organization? Do you have any insights on, once you're gathering all those data, how you use that data?

Abbey: The data that we collect, I think that, it's probably one of the most important pieces or portions of the program that we do. So we have access to this wealth of information that we can use in creative ways to change people's lives. So, incentives are the most common way we can use this data to reward healthy behavior. It's also a way that we can help with sustained engagement. Initial engagement incentives are really there to help someone get started. But that initial engagement is something that I think the whole industry struggles with and I would say, looking back on 2015, engagement – if I had a nickel for every time I heard engagement, I said engagement, I read article about engagement, I would probably be rich and not here right now.

Some of the things we're starting to do, specific to the fitness wearables, is we have this wealth of fitness information. We know when people are actually using a fitness tracker that they've connected with our site. When they fall off and they stop using it, when they've kind of overachieved and done more than what we're seeing on their average, and we can now use that data to give them nudges or to prompt them and say, "Hey, nice job. Try doing ten thousand more steps next week." Small goals that we can use. We can also create individualized incentives that are threshold-based, so we can work with an employer and offer an incentive for 30 minutes of activity a day, to really kind of hone in on the clinical guidelines that we're, kind of, anchored in.

Host: When you talk about the fall off. So when you say "fall off," is that just stopping using the device altogether?

Abbey: Yeah! So that's interesting – and that's improving – because I think that people were just jumping on board with the fitness trackers and the wearables last year, but then there's also these statistics that say after six months of activity, people stop using them. They end up in your bed, your nightstand, the battery dies.

Host: I'm guilty too, of that. Definitely.

Abbey: Yeah! So, I think, not only from the hardware perspective. There are new devices coming out on the market every day, it feels like, but they're improving on some of those kind of mechanical issues. If your battery dies – well, that's why people stop using it – so make a longer-lasting battery or provide ways for people not to have that issue. But with us, it's really around, "Okay, your battery is still working. It's right there on your kitchen table, why aren't you using it?" So that's one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of being in this industry. We have to find, think through, and be really thoughtful about, how we use this information we're getting to prevent that six-month drop off, and find creative ways to bring people back – motivate them, gentle nudges, incentives – to make sure that they're sticking with it.

Host: That's really interesting. And do you think, outside of the hardware piece of that, what have been some of the things you've been seeing, and we don't have to go to all of these, but just one or two of the indicators of why someone might stop using a wearable device?

Abbey: Sans the hardware, so more around the softer side?

Host: Right.

Abbey: I think in being in healthcare and wellness for over 15 years, that is a problem that has yet to be solved and that person is going to be a very rich person. If the behavior change piece is something that we can crack, I think we'll be in a good place. A lot of times, people within lifestyle, making lifestyle changes and these behavior changes, they tend to hit a roadblock, whether it's a barrier, like something happened in their family life, and that's last thing they can think about is exercise. Or whether it's lack of motivation, they just got tired. So it's trying to figure out what those individual motivators and barriers are and try and tap into that to get them over that hurdle and to help explain and educate that, even though you feel like this is a barrier in your life, actually exercising and keeping track of that will help you overcome that barrier even more easily. 

Host: When you think back to your health coaching days – this is before wearables, right? If you remove wearables from the entire equation, when you think about behavior change. So without any technology, how do you normally help someone through shifting their behavior? That might be a long conversation, separately. So what are some of the things that, maybe just one, or two or three of the highlighting points from that, of behavior change, and what that looks like, and just your general thoughts about that, as it relates to health and wellness.

Abbey: Yeah, so behavior change is interesting. Right after school, I was in the clinical setting, so I was working with cardiac rehab patients and people with diabetes, and it was very reactive. I was telling them how to manage a condition that could have been prevented. And so, I wanted to take a step back and go into the more proactive role and be preemptive and prevent diabetes and prevent cardiovascular issues. And so, working with individuals when I was coaching was a way for me to do that. It was also extremely challenging and frustrating – almost worse than the clinical setting – because you don't have diabetes yet, you feel okay, you don't have cardiovascular, you may be a little overweight and may not be exercising. The high-touch coaching is very valuable because you can ask those open-ended questions. You can drill down into the root of why you are or are not doing something and figure out where you are in your readiness to change and figure out those small goals that are going help you overcome and become healthier.

Host: When you look at an entire culture of an organization, when you were coaching individuals a while ago, did you see any similarities between pockets of people who had similar mindsets? And if you were able to shift one, would that impact the larger culture? Or how do you start to think about an entire culture of an organization as relates to behavior change?

Abbey: Yeah. I kind of referenced the culture audit, or assessment, that we have as one of our products. We've had that for a while and we're just starting to see a little more traction with that. And I think, because of what you were saying, I think that if you look at 24/7 kind of concept, not just your few moments with the member, but what are they doing most of their day and then after and before work, and when you're at work, it's hard to make changes that maybe a health coach is suggesting to you – if your culture isn't supportive of those changes. So, I think that the two go hand-in-hand and I think that if the culture isn't supportive – if you have a health coach saying, "You should take ten minutes every couple of hours and go for a walk and you'll get your thirty minutes quickly,” but then where you are 8-10 hours a day doesn't kind of jive with that recommendation and other people aren't doing it as well – you're gonna be less likely to do that and that becomes a big barrier. But if you can kind of marry the two, make recommendations for culture, policy changes, and incorporating that from the top down, then I think that your people that your health coaches are coaching are going to be more successful.

Host: How do you have conversations with the leadership of a team? Maybe this is advice you might suggest to someone who's on a leadership team and maybe they're thinking through "Alright, how do I get my leadership team on the same page, so we can roll us out efficiently and effectively?" Do you have any things that you would suggest to him or her?

Abbey: Well, I think that the leadership team needs to practice what they're preaching to employees, their employees. It's a team approach that we're in this together. One of the interesting things I was just listening to, a webinar, and there was a survey done and it was talking about the discrepancy between what employers think about their population and what their population is actually doing. Since I've been working on the fitness devices for a while, it was specific to that. One of the interesting facts was that, when the employees of these companies were surveyed, over 54-55% were actually using fitness trackers, but when employers were asked, "What percentage of your population do you think are using trackers?" they think it was around 20-30%. It showed me that there's a big discrepancy, I think, on what employers think and what employees are actually doing – probably, in a lot of regards, but especially with wellness. I think that there's an opportunity with more data like that and more research to say, "Hey, there's some gaps here,” in that culture audit conversation. Let's talk more, let's have more interactions and I think that that would lead to success.

Host: With wearables, what do you think is coming up next? What are some of the big things that you're anticipating for this year with wearables and how that is impacting wellness within organizations?

Abbey: A couple of things that I'm predicting in 2016. I think I'll take a step back and look at initial engagement with wearables. I think it's safe to say that we're getting close to one in, maybe two in ten, three in ten adults are actually using a wearable device. But what about the other side of that, the flip side, people that haven't purchased one yet? I think what the research shows is that the number one barrier to that is cost, and so, purchasing a device is prohibitive. We also know that individuals are more likely to use a tracker, if it's subsidized by a healthcare professional, their employer, health insurance. And so, I think we’ll see more trends with lower-cost options, which is one thing that we're working on in product development. It's kind of an agnostic approach to device discounts, to get those people that aren't using it to using it.

I think that we're going to see some – and we've seen a lot this year – of different major manufacturers like your Garmins and Jawbones that are doing different things with activity trackers. They're tying in other aspects of your life. Jawbone and American Express, for example, they partnered and so now you can pay with your Jawbone. Or Garmin, and a lot of other devices, integrate with your phone so you can get text messages. So, they're trying to make it a part of your life versus just, "I use it for activity." We've also got the Apple Watch, which has made a big splash, and I think, with their second and third generations, we can untether that from the phone; and if we can maybe lower the price point a little bit, we'll probably see more adoptions and pretty cool things from them.

Host: That's exciting because I know you love the passion you have, as relates to helping people with their health, but you also love data and technology. And so seeing those two pieces come together even more now, it must be really exciting for you.

Abbey: Very exciting. You can definitely touch more lives, going this path and using technology. So I think it's a nice complement to kind of our more traditional health coaching product.

Host: I love it. Very interesting. So looking at your experience, you're a registered dietitian, you have a master's degree in Nutrition Education. I know you're really passionate about working with individuals to help them meet their goals as it relates to their wellness plans, but if you combine that with your passion for technology and data – when you combine all of that, and you look at what's coming up this year, what are you most excited about?

Abbey: I think it's the whole "set it and forget it" aspect of wearables. It’s pretty intriguing to me so you don't have to constantly remember to track something. When back, I feel in the old days, when I was a health coach, tracking was key, but it was paper and pencil. It was manually entering something into a health portal. And so this has got that "set it and forget it" type feel. The other aspect I really, really like – and I know it's hot in our industry now – is the social connectivity of these fitness trackers that are available now. I did read a research article this past year that said, of people who own a Fitbit and have at least one friend on Fitbit in their social forum, they take an average 23% more steps a day. Just one friend. And so, I think that the problem with social connectivity in our space is maybe people are looking at it in the wrong way. I don't think it's a “create a Facebook for all of your, a Facebook version of a social network for, people and health plans”. I think it's tapping into what people are already using and making best-in-class recommendations around what social outlets are out there, how they're beneficial to you and kind of bring that into your ecosystem. Also, I think that some of the other health topics that we coach on that are so key to prevention, like nutrition, like your diet, like sleep, like stress, these manufacturers are going to be coming up with really creative ways to be able to allow users to track that information in a more seamless way. So in the next couple of years, I hope to expand the ecosystem and, not to be a huge big brother, but to provide easy ways for people to track their health and stay healthy.

Host: Do you think we'll ever get to a point where you can track stress? Is that even a thing?

Abbey: Yeah! And that is something that's new and I think that there's a lack of standardized way to track it, so a lot of it's your heart rate. And there's monitoring trends and maybe providing a little bit of feedback – certain wearables, not all. But I think that that's what I see as a trend going down the road. It's going to become more and more sophisticated and we're going to see maybe more standardized metrics to where you can really maybe get a nudge when you're feeling stressed and be able to then get a recommendation to go on a walk and then come back to steady-state and move on with your day.

Host: That's so interesting. Well, there's a lot of things we're looking forward to, for sure. Thank you to today's guest and thank you for listening to this episode. 


Well-Being Experts is brought to you by Onlife Health, a comprehensive wellness solutions company that has spent years working with health plans and large employers nationwide.


Today's podcast and additional perspectives from the Well-Being Experts can be found on onlifehealth.com/resources. We welcome any comments, questions, feedback, anything at engage@onlifehealth.com. Thanks!