A Plan Sponsor Injects Fun into Employee Wellness

To get employees to focus on healthy lifestyle behaviors, you have to have convenient and fun programs, says Carrie Camin, at Methodist Health Systems.

When a new CEO took the helm at Methodist Health Systems, based in Dallas, Texas, in 2007, he was very focused on wellness and health.

The health system, which self-funds its health benefits, established an eight-year strategy in 2007 for employee wellness, which included the usual health risk assessment and biometric screenings. “We had always intended on having an outcomes- or achievement-based wellness plan design; employees who show they are healthier pay less in health care premiums,” says Carrie Camin, assistant vice president of wellness at Methodist Health Systems. She adds that this requirement established an obligation for Methodist Health Systems to provide tools and resources for employees to get healthier and focus on lifestyle behaviors and healthy habits.

“To do that, you have to have convenient and fun programs,” she tells PLANSPONSOR. At an event the health system held in partnership with the American Diabetes Association, it was introduced to Fitness Interactive Experience (FIX), a health and fitness platform. Camin says it looked like a great opportunity and fun way to get employees moving.

Mike Tinney, founder and CEO of FIX, says FIX is different from most wellness tool providers because 50% of the company’s DNA is from the video game industry, but they also have health and wellness experts on staff. Tinney himself spent 20 years in the gaming industry. “We feel behavior change is much more an entertainment effort than a stick and fancy carrot effort,” he says, explaining that most of FIX’s programs are presented in a challenge format, with participants put on teams and given a finite period of time to complete activities.

The health system utilizes FIX’s flagship product, UtiliFIT. To implement the program, FIX met with Methodist Health Systems to do a discovery and information technology (IT) due diligence process to understand the employer’s needs and goals. A health coach met with Methodist Health Systems to determine acceptable activities for the work environment. FIX has more than 300 activities to choose from to customize a program for clients. All are activities that participants can do in 30 to 60 seconds and require no equipment—such as standing up from their chairs five times in a row, taking a flight of stairs to a meeting rather than an elevator, or cross-fit type of activities such as completing a certain number of squats. The tool also tracks nutrition and lifestyle habits of employees.

Once the discovery process was completed, Methodist Health Systems was set up with its own private domain for challenges, only available to employees. The firm used its own resources and FIX’s internal advertising resources to get employees excited, then opened a registration period for employees. Tinney says the whole implementation process takes four to six weeks.

With the program in full swing, those among Methodist Health Systems' 7,400 employees (from seven hospitals and 32 family health centers) who enrolled in the program get notifications during the day—either by text or email, whichever they signed up for—to do an activity within a certain time frame. The notification includes a link to a webpage that will show a picture or moving image of the activity and descriptions. The system keeps track of activities completed, participants get points, and there is a leaderboard on which teams and individuals get recognition and praise.

The team that receives the most points from all activities in a challenge may win a prize. Camin says the health system offers onsite chair massage to winning teams, and every individual that completes three activities throughout a day during the entire challenge gets 20 dollars in his or her paycheck and points to use towards other rewards.

Camin notes that FIX let the health system frame the verbage used for notifications. “They understand each workplace is unique,” she says. In addition, the system keeps track of employee improvement and activities become more difficult over time.

Methodist Health Systems implemented FIX at the end of 2014. Feeling that the program was new and it would be hard to get employees to register during the holiday time, as well as wanting to manage its budget, the health system established a participant registration cap of 150 employees. But, Camin says soon it had to move to 300, then 500. “We decided that since employees were so excited about something that could better their health, we could work our budget around that,” she adds.

It is too soon to see if FIX has positively affected Methodist Health System’s health benefit costs, but Camin says it isn’t all about costs. “Just doing something to show employees that you care about their health is a great first step, whatever that is,” she contends. “It’s not just about costs of the health plan.” She adds that she’s heard from employees they are still replicating challenges because they don’t want to lose what they gained from challenges—some people have seen physical differences and some have lost weight.

Methodist Health Systems does track claim trends, however, and measures the effectiveness of its wellness program on employee productivity and absences.

Tinney points out, “One of the things that I think makes Methodist so successful is the environment where leadership understands that a healthy worker is a more happy and effective worker and builds it into the DNA of the company culture. This is fertile ground for success stories.” He adds that getting leadership engaged in a wellness program is one of the most meaningful signals to staff of the importance of wellness.