'Concrete evidence' that incentivised wellness programmes reduce healthcare costs - PruHealth

South African study looks at health of 300,000 members

PruHealth this week put forward more evidence which it claims demonstrates a strong correlation between member engagement in incentivised health programmes and lower hospital admissions.

The five-year study, conducted in South Africa, involved 300,000 members of Discover Health, the insurer’s parent company. It examined their gym visits and participation in fitness activities over a three-year period and in the subsequent two years their probability of hospital admission and the costs incurred.

The findings revealed that members who remained highly active had a significantly lower probability of hospital admission and lower associated costs, while those who became more active were 16% less likely to be admitted to hospital and had costs 6% lower than those who remained inactive. Just two gym visits a week reduced the chance of hospital admission by 13%. The study also revealed a 22% increase in gym membership among programme members over the five years, implying the longer people stayed in the programme, the more likely they were to join a gym.

Dr Katherine Tyron from PruHealth said that for the first time there is “concrete evidence” that a comprehensive, incentive-based health promotion programme can motivate people to change their behaviour and increase participation in physical activity over time.

“Furthermore, we can show this translates into positive benefits for both individuals as hospital admissions are reduced, and for the PMI [private medical insurance] industry as lower hospital admission costs are subsequently generated,” she said.

Dr Tyron went on to add that unhealthy lifestyles negatively affect the premiums of those leading a healthy lifestyle, so reducing hospital admissions and costs by encouraging healthier and fitter lifestyles is "a win win situation for everyone".

These findings contrast with those of numerous previous studies, such as Harland et al (which found self-reported levels of physical activity after 12 weeks of intervention were not maintained at one year), but the researchers suggested that subsidised gym membership and other fitness facilities, as well as incentivising rewards, are likely to have helped lower the financial and motivational barriers to participation.

PruHealth's wellness programme, Vitality, rewards members for exercising regularly, eating well and not smoking by paying its members back some of their premium in cash if they reach the required levels.

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