best wellness platforms

What are Digital Wellness Platforms?

Today’s digital wellness platforms are far more engaging and robust than the original platforms. Historically corporate wellness programs have been nothing more than a website with an administrative side and an employee side that provided basic health information and a basic tracking tool. They were more of a basic wellness portal.

This original platform is no longer useful as today, everyone has access to these types of wellness portals…it’s called Google.

Digital wellness platforms used today are way more robust than their predecessors. More than a library of reference information, they are user-engaging wellness program delivery and management systems.

Published wellness studies show that the most effective wellness programs are focused on helping employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviors.  Following this logic, it makes sense that a good employee wellness program should make starting and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits easy for employees. Let’s take a deeper dive into what features, tools, and information make an effective digital wellness platform.

Even the Best Digital Wellness Platform is NOT a Corporate Wellness Program

Unfortunately, some employers believe that having an employee wellness website is the same as having a wellness program.  They mistakenly assume that feeding employees information via a one-way informational portal is enough to improve employee health and reduce health care costs.

A wellness website or digital wellness platform is not a wellness program. It’s a computer software program that can be used to help deliver wellness programming and help manage the process.

Despite all the features and benefits that come from computer coding and programming, these computer systems are still just tools that can be used to encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t support the employee in their everyday lives away from the computer.

Think about somebody you know that lives a healthy lifestyle. This person most likely exercises every day, doesn’t use tobacco, eats a healthy diet, manages their stress and weight, and maintains some level of work/life balance.

When this healthy person is shopping for healthy foods, making healthy selections at a restaurant, or exercising, they are not online at a wellness portal. They are out in the real world with friends and family making healthy lifestyle choices throughout the day.

The basic wellness platform might provide them with basic information to help point them in the right direction, but supporting a transformative change that allows the employee to live a healthy lifestyle is at the core of what a comprehensive wellness program is trying to produce. 

An effective employee wellness program should be a healthy living support tool that helps individuals adopt and maintain healthy behaviors. It should incorporate several aspects of behavior change science to accomplish four strategic objectives:

digital wellness platforms

These four objectives are what helps to transition theory into reality. This behavior change model tells us exactly what features the best worksite wellness programs should have if they are to be effective.

The table below shows 10 wellness platform features and how each one is part of the behavior change process.

Wellness Platform Feature What it Does
1.  Conduct confidential Personal Health Assessment
2.  Educate (videos, books, webinars, biometric results)
Education and Awareness
3.  Track program participation and activity
4.  Make engagement easy with a mobile app
5.  Track and administer incentives and rewards
Motivation
6.  Demonstrate how to be healthy
7.  Provide the tools needed to be healthy
8.  Deliver behavior change campaigns and challenges
Skills and Tools
9.  Encourage social support
10. Create a health promoting culture
Healthy Culture, Support from Others

Top 10 Features the Best Digital Wellness Platforms Have

1.  Ability to Conduct Confidential Health Assessments

The first step in behavior change is to become educated about the need to change our behaviors. This is why most wellness programs start off with a personal health assessment and a biometric screening.

Many wellness portals now offer a mobile or tablet component. This makes it even easier for an employee to take an assessment and read the results from just about anywhere.

The results from these assessments highlight the areas of our lives that can be adjusted in an effort to help create a healthier lifestyle. Whether done on a computer or a mobile device, digital wellness platforms can make it easy for employees to review reports of their personal health risks and understand the results from their biometric screening.

2.  Employee Education

There are dozens of ways to educate employees about the need for healthy behaviors. A robust wellness program will use a variety of methods such as video content, live presentations, webinars, books, audio files, social media, and personalized feedback emails to help employees understand the importance of adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Presenting information in a way that is easy for an employee to digest and act on is critical to a successful wellness program. Here is an example of personalized feedback from the WellSteps wellness solution.

Many wellness programs stop at education and awareness. However, to create true change, employees need additional features and support tools.

Wellsteps app

3.  Tracking Program Participation and Activity

Well-designed corporate wellness systems will automatically track program participation and individual health behaviors. Why is this a standard of any wellness program? It’s simple really. When we see progress, we are motivated to continue with new behaviors.

By showing participation and activity, a good system can help individuals see how their activity changes over time. They can help individuals accomplish their personal wellness goals.  Often, they can track data from wearable devices such as a Fit Bit,  Jawbone, or an Apple Watch. Through these devices, they can even detect who has watched behavior change videos or completed behavior change tasks.

All of the collected data gets aggregated into live reports that allow employees and program administrators to have a dashboard view of everything going on within their wellness strategy. This is perhaps one of the most useful aspects of a wellness platform.

program participation reporting

4.  Makes Engagement Easy with a Mobile App

There was a time when most wellness program participants used paper forms and printed materials to report on health risks or to track employee participation. The logistics of creating, printing, shipping, and collecting these materials were burdensome.

For the most part, all of that has been replaced by giving employees access to a digital wellness portal. Whether on a computer, mobile device, or tablet, it is a lot easier and far more user-friendly for employees to participate in these programs today.

Any well-designed corporate wellness program will be available via a computer, mobile device, or tablet. Many of today’s wellness platforms even offer the option of accessing via a mobile app, which puts all the tools an employee needs right in the palm of their hand.

At WellSteps, we are seeing more and more employees participating in our wellness programs with the WellSteps app. Well-designed and easy-to-use apps make it easy for employees to engage in your wellness program. This helps them stay motivated, gives them the tools and support they need wherever they are, and helps them along their journey towards leading healthier lives.

wellness challenges

5.  Tracking and Administering Incentives and Rewards

When we talk about motivation, most of us think about employee incentives. As employees complete different aspects of the wellness program, they can earn points towards different rewards.

I have written articles on the best ways to use incentives to motivate employees. Here are some of the best incentive ideas and a complete guide on how to get the most out of wellness incentives. Regardless of the incentive strategy that you use, your wellness system needs to track progress towards receiving your wellness rewards.

Historically, administering a wellness incentive plan has been labor-intensive for staff and challenging for employees. The WellSteps Rewards Solution automates the entire process of validating, tracking, and fulfilling wellness program incentives.

Your employee wellness platform needs to greatly simplify the tracking and administration of wellness rewards to ensure continued engagement. A good wellness system will do this automatically and make it extremely easy for employees to report and track their progress.

The easier it is for employees to participate, the more they will enjoy it and the more likely they are to acquire new, healthy behaviors.

digital wellness apps

6.  Demonstrating How to be Healthy

In my experience, these next three features are the most difficult to produce and the most effective if done right. Most people who have elevated health risks already know that their health is not as good as it should be.

What they really need is a step-by-step approach to improving their lives. They need to know how to change their habits to make it easier to be healthy. They need to be taught how to shop for healthy foods, how to avoid unhealthy fast foods, how to be physically active even though they might have a busy schedule, and how to avoid situations where they may be tempted to use tobacco.

It is one thing to know that exercise is good for you. It is another thing to decide what type of activity to do and how to do it. This is why the how-to part of the behavior change theory is crucial. Wellness platforms can become teaching tools to give people the skills and know-how to transform their lives.

This can be done with a video, but it would be even better if the system were used to communicate a live meeting where real humans can communicate with other real humans to learn how to create healthy lifestyle habits. Not only does this foster stronger communication, it also creates a sense of support and community to better guide the employee through their health decisions. When used at this level, the wellness solution can also become a communication tool.

7.  Providing the Tools Needed to be Healthy

Sometimes demonstrations on how to be healthy are not enough. Employees may need resources or tools to help them be healthy. Sporting equipment, gym passes, cooking equipment, vegetable cutting boards, walking shoes, recipe books, or a day planner are all tools that can be used to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Without the right tools, it is unlikely that a new behavior will be acquired. The recently updated Stop & Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide is a tool to help you decipher what fast food and restaurant dishes you can eat and still be healthy.  The newly updated app is FREE and includes over 25,000 fast foods from 143 different restaurants.  

For employees who prefer to make their own meals, the Stop & Go Grocery Guide is a great resource! It was created with nutrition experts who are providing everything you need to know about what grocery foods are healthy and what foods are not.

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8.  Delivering Behavior Change Campaigns and Challenges

The WellSteps behavior change campaigns and challenges are carefully designed programs that use each of the four major steps of behavior change theory. Each campaign and challenge is designed to support employees along their journey as they learn to make new lifestyle habits.

Each campaign uses marketing and communication materials, incentives, campaign materials, videos, webinars, and onsite support to help employees be healthy.  Most, but not all of this can be delivered using a digital wellness platform.  

For example, by watching a brief video during the Food Makeover campaign, employees take several weeks to learn which of the foods currently in their home are healthy and which ones are not. During the campaign, they will take an inventory of the foods in their home.

They also learn shopping secrets that help them know what to buy and how to save money doing it. Finally, they are asked to choose and prepare one meal from our library of healthy, simple recipes.

This behavior change campaign helps employees eat healthier meals at home.  Here is one of the videos from this campaign that is delivered via the wellness computer system.

9.  Encouraging Social Support

Unless you live on a deserted island all by yourself, your health behaviors and decisions are influenced by friends and family. This is why a good employee wellness program will communicate and invite your friends and family to participate with you.

Social support is key to successful long-term behavior change. Without it is almost impossible to change our diets, stop smoking, or create a daily habit of exercise. Humans are very social creatures and the support we get from others goes a long way to helping us be healthy.

A good wellness platform also has a strong social media component where successes can be shared with others. Personal stories and challenges can provide motivation for others to change behaviors. Whether it’s integrations with Facebook and Instagram, or a weekly newsletter, every employee wellness program needs to include effective ways to harness social support.

corporate wellness programs provide social support

10. Creating a Health Promoting Culture

Adopting healthy behaviors is fairly easy. The challenge is to maintain these healthy behaviors for the rest of your life. Worksites that can create health-promoting environments and a culture that supports healthy living will experience a variety of positive wellness outcomes.  

The WellSteps Guides use our wellness solution to help every single client take a good look at their worksite culture using our free tool called the Checklist to Change. Each quarter the wellness committee and worksite leadership pick one thing to change within their environment.

This checklist to change is delivered through the wellness portal and it helps organizations create a culture of health. After several years of small, consistent, culture changes, the entire organization begins to look and feel like a place where people want to work and be healthy.

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So What?

Large studies have shown that 70 to 91% of all chronic diseases are lifestyle-related. That means that most of our poor health, and the majority of our healthcare costs, come from diseases that are caused by poor health behaviors.

Wellness programs that use effective digital wellness platforms will improve employee health behaviors, lower health risks, and reduce employee healthcare costs. WellSteps uses each of these features as part of our comprehensive wellness platform solutions.

As the winner of the 2021 Koop award, WellSteps has been able to demonstrate that user-friendly and comprehensive digital wellness platforms can make a good wellness program great.

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About The Author

Dr. Steve Aldana

Dr. Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a worksite wellness solution that leads the nation in wellness program deployment and engagement. Dr. Aldana authored over 75 scientific papers and 7 books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs. He has given over 350 keynote speeches across the U.S. on the ability of good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent, arrest, and reverse many chronic diseases.