Health IT

Wellness incentive startup rewards employee progress, not engagement

“The wellness industry is awful noisy. Some people are doing some great things, and other people are just adding to the noise.”

That’s what Charlie Zei, the co-founder of employee wellness incentives company PUSH Wellness, summed up quite nicely in a recent interview.

A project Zei and co-founder Greg Vachon would obviously file under “doing great things,” PUSH takes a progress-based approach to driving behavior change by focusing its program not on employee engagement but on actual improved health measures.

Whereas many popular employee wellness companies like BoostRewards, RedBrick Health, HealthPrize and PureWellness reward participation in certain health-promoting activities, PUSH deals out cash incentives to employees based on their PUSH score, a proprietary measure that’s calculated based on a person’s BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and fitness level. Employees go through initial screenings that generate their starting score and baseline payout. To receive more dollars, they need to improve their measures.


“We don’t base any incentive payment on employee self-report or on participation,” Zei said. “With a lot of other wellness programs, their key is engagement; they reward participants for tracking their walking or reporting that they went to the gym. We only pay out if they’ve verified that they’ve improved their health.”

To help employees earn more of their max payment amount, PUSH sends them targeted, algorithm-generated messages via its web portal and email telling employees what they need to do to improve their score.  Employees can also use the web interface to find out what their score is, how much of their baseline payment they’ve qualified for based on their score, and how much money they could make if they improve in certain areas.

“When employees receive their payment it’s accompanied by an explanation of why they’re receiving what they’re receiving,” Zei said.

Employers who contract with PUSH must offer up the possibility of at least a $50 incentive per employee per month. Employees can be re-evaluated each month, or can keep receiving their base payment.

A pilot run at a Chicago business with 218 employees has delivered some promising results after three months: 70 percent of employees are participating, 120 pounds have been lost, 22 people have improved their blood pressure and two people quit smoking.

PUSH’s business model is like most others wellness companies’ – it charges monthly fees per employee and testing fees for the biometric screenings. The latter revenue avenue may go away, though, as the company looks to partner with others that are already doing biometric testing.

A survey recently conducted by Principal Financial Group found that employees who were enrolled in workplace wellness initiatives reported reduced personal healthcare costs, improved attendance and better productivity. Reliable data isn’t yet available to determine whether engagement-based or the increasingly popular outcomes-based incentive programs provide the greatest ROI for employers, but a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change found that programs consisting of only health risk assessment and web-based tools without personalized follow-up like health coaching are most likely to fail.

But according to Zei, that’s another partnership opportunity the co-founders are keeping an eye out for, since there are already so many companies that do it well. Zei said once these partnerships are in place and a few more pilots have been run, the company will be ready to scale quickly, probably late this fall.

Zei and Vachon were part of Healthbox’s inaugural class.

[Photo from akeeris]