Online Coaching Guides Members to Wellness
Sep. 23, 2019
Robert Bleakley needed a nudge in the right direction to improve his health.
For years, Bleakley, 68, had taken prescription drugs to control high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Sluggishness interfered with his ability to increase his level of daily activity.
A 10-week, online program included in his health plan helped Bleakley achieve results that had eluded him for decades. The program, Naturally Slim®, not only heightened his activity level but also reduced his need for medications.
Naturally Slim focuses on metabolic syndrome, a condition tied to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. It affects about 1 in 4 U.S. adults.
The program includes weekly self-paced, online video sessions and frequent guidance from a counselor. It focuses on weight loss and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by teaching people to assess their eating habits while learning how hydration, exercise, stress and the environment may affect them.
Bleakley’s blood pressure decreased. The good cholesterol in his body (HDL) increased, while his triglycerides plummeted. His waistline shrunk 6 inches and he dropped 26 pounds before the program concluded.
The key to Bleakley’s success: coaching in behavioral change.
“The chief lessons involved learning to make the proper choices of food and employ specific improved eating habits,” he says. “Surprisingly, that behavioral adjustment wasn’t particularly difficult, but it clearly has been beneficial.”
Well-being in the digital age
Like Bleakley, many Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois members have access to digital health tools through their plan.
Most start with Well onTarget®, which includes more than two dozen self-management programs that help members meet health care goals, such as quitting tobacco and managing weight and stress. In return for achieving health goals, members earn points that can be used to buy electronics, sporting goods, DVDs or music downloads.
Naturally Slim and other tools, meanwhile, provide more focused guidance and coaching to members who need extra support to control or reverse specific health conditions. In addition to metabolic syndrome, they target musculoskeletal health, chronic pain, hypertension and diabetes prevention and management.
In a world where many people rely on the internet’s convenience to manage almost all aspects of daily life, it makes sense to offer digital well-being management tools in the way members want them — and whenever they want them — says Thomas Maryon, vice president of clinical operations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico Oklahoma and Texas.
"We know if members are going to take control of their health, we need to create channels that make it easy for them to access."
These tools are part of a broader, holistic approach to care management and wellness under Wellbeing Management and Health Advocacy Solutions, which are part of many of the insurer’s large group plans.
“It’s the natural evolution of the marketplace,” Maryon says. “Things have gone digital. We are moving to deliver solutions to members in a consumer-friendly way.”
Technology helps self-management
Technology has significantly changed the way people manage their weight and health conditions. In 2018, the digital weight loss market, or the virtual weight loss market, was valued at $1.4 billion and is expected to grow 6.6% annually through 2023, according to Marketdata, which tracks the commercial U.S. weight loss industry.
Patient engagement with digital tools and coaching may lead to improved health outcomes, research shows. In a study presented at the 2018 annual meeting of American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, researchers found a digital coaching program helped patients manage their Type 2 diabetes. Study participants lost an average of 4.9 pounds and dropped one percentage point in their hemoglobin A1c levels, a diabetes indicator, after three months.
“We know if members are going to take control of their health, we need to create channels that make it easy for them to access,” Maryon says.
Successful behavior change
As a Blue Cross and Blue Shield wellness coordinator, Marlene Mier provides members one-on-one coaching, as well as health-focused education and presentations. With 35 years of experience, Mier has tried throughout her career to help people lose weight and become healthier.
Members have had more success with Naturally Slim than almost every other wellness program she has encountered because it helps people become more conscious of their eating habits.
“Naturally Slim helps people learn why they eat what they do and understand the emotional value of food,” Mier says. “Members learn about all the contributing factors that drive behavior.”
Bleakley raved about his success with Naturally Slim when he met Mier at a wellness event she held to educate members about how diet and lifestyle modifications can prevent high blood pressure.
“At that point, he already had lost 30 pounds,” Mier recalls. “He told me the totality of the program really spoke to him. It saved his life. This is what I hear the most consistently about the program. It gives me goosebumps every time. It changes the way people think about food.”
The Well onTarget program is offered as a part of employer-sponsored benefits. Participation in the Well onTarget program, including the completion of a Health Assessment, is voluntary and you are not required to participate. Visit Well onTarget for complete details and terms and conditions.
Naturally Slim is an independent company that has contracted directly with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois to provide a weight loss and metabolic syndrome reduction program that is covered under some of the health benefit plans. Naturally Slim is solely responsible for the products or services offered by them.