4 Reasons to Support TEDMED Great Challenge #22: Inventing Wellness Programs That Work
This year the TEDMED conference is trying something new and exciting. The organizers have identified 50 Great Challenges that face the health care industry. Each challenge has been assigned a Challenge Advocate, and I’m honored to have been selected to represent Great Challenge #22: Inventing Wellness Programs That Work. My role as a challenge advocate is to spark conversations at the conference and persuade the other TEDMED delegates to vote for my challenge. At the end of the conference, the top 20 challenges will become the official ones supported by the organization – which means they are likely to garner increased attention, support, and resources from the TEDMED community. As I fly into our nation’s capital for what promises to be a lively and thought-provoking conference, I thought I would use my flight time productively by outlining the reasons why I believe challenge #22 is so important to support.
Rodrigo Martinez of IDEO correctly pointed out on his blog that many of the 50 TEDMED challenges overlap. For example, “Reducing Childhood Obesity” is closely tied with “The Obesity Crisis.” While it’s always frustrating when ideas and concepts don’t fit neatly into boxes as we’d like them to, the overlap that Rodrigo identifies is exactly why I’m excited that “wellness programs” made the list. Wellness programs are one of the best solutions to so many of the other proposed challenges: Promoting Active Lifestyles, Choosing Better Foods, Solving the Obesity Epidemic (for both adults and children), Making Prevention Popular, and Reducing Health Care Costs. Focusing on inventing wellness programs that work allows us to channel our energies toward a proven solution to several major health care problems.
Wellness programs don’t often have the same wow factor as robots that perform surgery or biosensors small enough that they can travel through your bloodstream. After all, how exciting can we really make a health risk assessment or smoking cessation program? But we know these programs work. Countless studies show that wellness initiatives produce clinically significant health outcomes, and this Harvard Business Review paper does a solid job of analyzing the return-on-investment for wellness programs. Wellness programs aren’t always flashy, don’t involve James Bond-like gadgets, and are unlikely to be featured on the front page of Popular Science. But they move the needle in the right direction when it comes to population health, and for that reason they deserve more attention.
Some of the great challenges in health care are ones that will be solved in the future, decades from now. But inventing wellness programs that work is a challenge that is being solved today. Employers, health plans, and even the government are pouring billions of dollars into wellness initiatives in an effort to control rising health care costs. Over 90% of all large employers in America offer wellness programs today, and the Affordable Care Act calls for billions of dollars to be invested by the government in these types of programs. This means we don’t have to wait to begin solving this challenge, but it also means that large institutions need guidance on best practices. There is a healthy demand for wellness programs, and now our collective challenge is to make them better and more scalable.
Rodrigo also pointed out in his blog post that some of the proposed challenges weren’t in fact challenges at all. For example, how do we solve the “Food & Technology” challenge? Unless a challenge represents a specific question, how can we even begin to address it? Challenge #22 is a tangible goal that we can work toward together: how do we design and build wellness programs that are affordable, scalable, produce greater clinical outcomes, and lower health care costs even further? This isn’t a pipe dream but rather a concrete, practical, and achievable goal. If we work hard together over the coming months and years, I know we can make real, measurable progress toward solving this challenge.
I hope you, and the rest of the delegates at TEDMED, find my reasoning to be sound. I’ll be there at The Kennedy Center with four of my colleagues from ShapeUp handing out cards about the benefits of wellness programs and asking people to wear a bright red #22 sticker on their TEDMED badge to show their support for this particular challenge. I’ve obviously chosen my #1 challenge, but now I have 19 more to vote for! I can’t wait to meet the rest of the challenge advocates and listen to why their reasons for why their challenge deserves support.