Do You Want To Engage? The Choice is Yours.

MIT SloanWhen it comes to managing population health or deploying an employer wellness program, the conversation doesn’t last long before it inevitably turns to engagement. Namely – How do we get more people to participate?

This trillion-dollar question (as in $3 trillion) has long been one of the biggest challenges faced by employers and other organizations as they work to increase participation in the programs and resources they provide to their consumers. While there are numerous approaches and levers that can impact engagement rates, we believe we should follow the same behavior change principle we apply to help shape healthy habits – focus on the simplest thing that will have the biggest impact.

Recently, the MIT Sloan School of Management had a release announcing the high-level findings from a research study on optimizing the effectiveness of email marketing they have been doing in conjunction with RedBrick Health. This research specifically studied the engagement level of individuals in RedBrick programs, when they were presented with a yes/no option compared to a standard “enroll here” option. The study found that yes/no resulted in nearly 40% higher engagement rates across a sample of 40,000 RedBrick users.

It shouldn’t be surprising that providing consumers choice will have a positive outcome as it pertains to program engagement. Choice architecture has long been incorporated into all aspects of our life. However, that making such a minor change in a communication can result in such a dramatic percentage increase in engagement is a great lesson to remember that engagement isn’t always complex algorithms or program designs. Instead, sometimes it’s as simple as empowering a person to choose to take the next step.

Look for us to provide additional insight from this research in the coming months as the paper is published and additional findings are disseminated.

2014 – The Year of Workforce Wellness in Minnesota

Ryan - no jacket lo resHats off to an initiative launched on Friday, February 7th in Minnesota. Reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton declared 2014, Minnesota’s “Year of Worksite Wellness”. Among the employers being championed as heralding the importance and effectiveness of worksite wellness programs that are proven to significantly improve health and productivity and decrease health care costs and absenteeism is RedBrick Health client, The Schwan Food Company.

Along with The Schwan Food Company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Anytime Fitness, Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Connolly Kuhl Group, Lakewood Health Center, Life Time Fitness, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Taher Inc. and TEAM Industries all have been deemed Worksite Wellness champions as part of this initiative.

We’re encouraged that these companies are not alone, as a 2012 survey by the Minnesota Department of Health found that nearly nine out of 10 Minnesota workplaces are interested in improving wellness, and a quarter of all employers are currently offering worksite wellness efforts. We are seeing similar trends across the U.S., and we’ve seen widespread and growing interest in services designed to engage people in their personal health and drive down health care costs.

The importance of these efforts is undeniable. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, obesity and tobacco use alone cost Minnesota $6 billion annually. Nationally, U.S. health care spend is projected to exceed $3 trillion, or nearly 20% of our national GDP, in 2014. It is estimated that nearly 75% of these costs are tied to chronic illnesses that are a result of lifestyle choices and thus preventable. These numbers are only going to continue to rise unless a concerted effort is focused on empowering individuals to make wiser choices when it comes to managing their health and making their purchasing decisions. Hopefully initiatives such as this one can create a groundswell towards better health for all of us.

More information about Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) can be found at:

Dan Ryan, Chief Executive Officer, RedBrick Health

The Divide that Keeps Dividing – Let’s Get Digital

Our wellness solution is multi-modal. And for good reason – we engage consumers in their health and help them achieve lasting behavior change when we reach them The Divide that Keeps Devidingthrough their preferred media. Consumer learning styles and preferences vary. As do their media access options – for some audiences more than others. Ours is a stream all consumers can swim, not one restricted to those with Internet access. But more and more, the opportunities and solutions consumers have access to are broadened, sometimes significantly, with that proverbial membership card to the World Wide Web – broadband.

That’s why we continue to be reassured as we watch the wall between the web-enabled and the web-without falling further and further into rubble and dust. The more access is shared, the better. Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released a compelling Demographic Portrait of consumer technology use – evidence the racial divide of Internet access, specifically between white and black Americans, is positively evolving. And rapidly. There’s still a divide, especially within specific income brackets and in the retiree age subpopulation. But the racial landscape of the web-enabled is expanding. And some of the shifting terrain is enlightening.

According to Pew’s latest survey, 86% of African Americans aged 18-29, 88% black college graduates and 91% African Americans with household incomes of $75,000 or more are active Internet users AND have broadband access within their homes. Those are adoption rates identical to white Americans of similar ages, incomes and education levels. Also compelling, African Americans lead their white counterparts in some areas of social media utilization, with 96% of black Americans aged between 18 and 29 utilizing social networking of some kind.

Pew’s stats indicate blacks and whites are equally likely to own a cell phone, and the two populations have comparable rates of smartphone ownership. The divide between these two racial populations remain, however, when it comes to home broadband. Pew’s survey shows a 74% home broadband access for white Americans versus 62% of their black counterparts. That’s 12 points. Until that chasm is bridged, it remains critical that solutions hoping to effectively engage all populations offer smartphone-optimized consumer experiences on par with their desktop web solutions. The smartphone can only provide a leveling of the “high speed access gap” if the solutions offered consumers via their handheld devices are as compelling, convenient and dimensional as those offered to consumers accessing from their home computers. What advantage does smartphone accessibility offer if the access merely brings the consumer the opportunity to view static thumbnail images the detail of microfiche, or dynamic platforms impossible to navigate with even the most dexterous thumbs?

Pew released a different set of stats in May that found 15% of American adults do not use the Internet at all. Another 9% of adults use the Internet, but not within their homes. When asked why, 32% stated they found the consumer experience of the Internet frustrating. The barrier of consumer frustration, in fact, trumped lack of access and the expense of internet services combined.

Access is essential. But so is design. And consumer experience. If you need proof these things matter, just ask the White House and Department of Health about the tough lessons learned in rolling out the Affordable Care Plan. One of the most significant works of legislation of a generation, and it dangled perilously over potential ruin, months on end, largely due to web site design. Or web site under-design. That may be a simplified view, but make no mistake – the difference between success and failure, between access and alienation, between engagement and missed opportunity, between positive impact and wasted resources hinges, more often than not, on the technology that underpins the access point of the solution itself. And the consumer experience when the technology is activated.

The digital divide continues to disappear. And that’s a good thing. Its place on the endangered species list is welcome. And where barriers to access fade, opportunities to win and advance consumer experience compound and, potentially, flourish.

Dr. Dobro’s Debrief: Longevity in a Nutshell


In an earlier post I discussed the results of a study that touted the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Along with eating veggies, an additional 

way to help you live longer is to eat nuts. Like we tell our health coaching participants regularly, when you get the munchies reach for nuts instead of fatty snacks like chips or candy. 

A recent summary of two studies showed that increased nut consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases and death. The total study size was significant, 120,000 participants, as was the time period – participants answered questions about their diet at the beginning of the studies in the 1980s, and then every two to four years during 30 years of follow-up. Participants who ate nuts daily were 20% less likely to have died during the course of the study than those who avoided nuts.

According to the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, tree nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts can lower your LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and contain many other healthy nutrients. Eating more nuts is associated with a significantly lower risk for cardiovascular disease, and death from cancer, heart disease and lung diseases.The researchers found that from those who had never eaten nuts to those who eat them seven days a week, the more frequently people ate nuts, the lower their risk of premature death. In fact, feel free to mix it up – there are lots of varieties of nuts you can choose, such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts and pistachios, among many others. Nuts have numerous benefits for your health.

So, go nuts!  Well, not really. Recommendations vary, but a healthy amount of nuts is generally described as “a handful a day.”

Dr. Jeff Dobro, Chief Medical Officer, RedBrick Health

Source: N Engl J Med2013 Nov 21;369(21):2001-11. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1307352.

Celebrating Success – A RedBrick Health Success Story

The Health Innovation Blog has long been a forum for us to discuss the latest trends, approaches and research that impact population health. We share this information and perspectives to hopefully provide a resource for employers, organizations and individuals who are as passionate about helping people be healthy as we are at RedBrick Health.

 Just as we believe that recognizing success is critical to effectively change behaviors, sharing the success of REAL people who have reached their health goals reminds us all that through small steps and the proper support, lives can be transformed and the amazing can happen. As a new monthly feature, real people, who made real lifestyle changes to achieve their goals, will be featured on the Health Innovation Blog. At RedBrick, we celebrate their success and  hope you find their stories as inspiring as we do.


Inspiration is unique for everyone. It was no different for Valerie. Unhappy with being overweight since her 10-year-old son was born, Valerie decided to start taking control of her health and began down a journey – step by step – until she reached her goal, which was completing a 5k race with her son. Along the way she took advantage of RedBrick Health Coaching, joined a RedBrick Challenge, and synced her Fitbit to track the healthy activities she was engaging in. In the end she lost 40 pounds, became closer to her son and took control of her whole family’s health. From everyone at RedBrick – we are proud of Valerie, and the tens of thousands of others out there like her.

Click below to see Valerie’s story.

Dr. Dobro’s Debrief: Eat Dinner Together to Keep Everyone’s BMI In-Check

Jeff DobroWith the new year upon us, undoubtedly many of us have made goals to improve our health in 2014. As a result, gym memberships are purchased, and new diets are tried in an effort to lose weight and improve our health. But what if I told you that new research shows that where you eat can also have a proven impact your BMI?

Typically, the majority of research and health advice focuses on what is being eaten and how the foods that we consume impact our health. That’s why a recent study on the influence of where families eat dinner caught my eye. The study of dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI found that families who frequently eat dinner in the kitchen or dining room had significantly lower BMI (lower for both the adults and their children) compared to families who ate elsewhere (especially in front of the TV – no surprise.)

The study involved 190 parents and 148 children. BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It is used as a screening tool to identify weight categories that may lead to health problems. Healthy BMI for adults 18 years and older is in the range of 18.6 to 24.9.

The study found significantly lower BMI measures in families where everyone participates in the dinner conversations and family members most often remain seated until everyone is finished with their meals. The practice of rituals such as these places emphasis on the social interactions as opposed to the food. In addition, within this environment the meal is often prepared in home, with you in control of the portions, ingredients and cooking method.

So make it a habit to gather regularly for dinner at the kitchen or dining room table, turn off the TV, and enjoy each other’s company. Your whole family will benefit.

Dr. Jeff Dobro, Chief Medical Officer, RedBrick Health

Source: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Oct 1. doi: 10.1002/oby.20629

Dr. Dobro’s Debrief: Pass the Veggies for a Longer Life

Jeff DobroTo help break through the clutter of the myriad of studies and reports that get published each month, RedBrick Health chief medical officer, Dr. Jeff Dobro, will share a brief synopsis on some of the more interesting peer-reviewed studies that he assesses in an on-going series on the Health Innovation Blog.

With the holiday eating season in full-swing, it’s as good of a time as any to be aware of how a few simple changes in diet can have a positive impact on your life. Recently a study offers evidence that a vegetarian diet has shown to lower mortality rates. The study of more than 70,000 people over a 6-year period found that vegetarians (with or without consuming fish or eggs) were less likely to die from any cause compared to non-vegetarians. Death rates were reduced by 8 – 19% over the 6 years of the study. The reduction in mortality rates were attributed to the primary benefits of vegetarian diets, which are lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels as the majority of meals consist of low-fat vegetables, whole grains and fruit. What’s more, the study notes that the vegetarian group tended to be older, more highly educated and more likely to be married, to drink less alcohol, to smoke less, to exercise more and to be thinner.

As I noted, the study considered someone a vegetarian if they also consumed fish or eggs as part of their plant-based diet. This is significant, as while most people consider a vegetarian-only diet as one of the healthiest approaches, there are significant benefits to observing a pescatarian diet. In fact the study found  that a semi-vegetarian diet in which fish and seafood are also consumed was the most influential in helping people (especially males) live longer.

The reason for this is likely that including fish and seafood gives pescatarians many nutrients and vitamins that are absent in other vegetarian diets. Varying the types of seafood is recommended, as are other sources of protein such as beans and nuts. This combination of food-sources is most like the Mediterranean diet you’ve heard so much about and one that can be delicious and fairly easy to stick with. So if any of the traits of the vegetarian group in the study are ones that you are hoping to achieve in the new year, why not make your first step towards that goal be a simple change in diet.

- Dr. Jeff Dobro, Chief Medical Officer, RedBrick Health

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine July 2013, Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2.


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