The countless health benefits of exercise and a healthy diet are no secret and have long been touted by physicians. New programs have cropped up in recent years that seek to make regular exercise and fresh, organic produce more accessible, helping to keep patients healthier while creating opportunity for marketers to get involved. Fitness and health food brands would be wise to seek out partnerships with health insurance providers and create more incentives for patients to lead healthier lifestyles, begetting long-term benefits for everyone.
Hubway (officially New Balance Hubway), Boston’s bike-sharing program, has announced a partnership with the Boston Medical Center and the Boston Public Health Commission to offer a subsidized membership to low-income Boston residents who qualify. As part of the “Prescribe-a-Bike” program, doctors at Boston Medical Center are prescribing their low-income patients, some whom may be entirely new to health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act, a special discounted membership for just $5. A steal in comparison to a regular annual membership fee of $85, the program provides a healthier method of transportation that’s cheaper than the MBTA. The City of Boston, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital are all backers (thehubway.com).
Meanwhile, in cities across the country, doctors are writing prescriptions for fresh fruit and vegetables. Last year, New York City rolled out FVRx, which allows doctors to prescribe fruit and veggies to overweight patients—the patients are motivated by “Health Bucks” redeemable at over 140 New York City farmers markets. Started by Wholesome Wave, a non-profit that connects low-income people with local produce, the expanding program aims to provide families with greater access to healthy foods and lists New York City, the Harlem Hospital Center, Lincoln Medical Health Center, GrowNYC, and the Harvest Home Farmers Market as partners.
Physicians who participate in programs like the Prescribe-a-Bike or FVRx are no longer merely recommending, but writing actual prescriptions for exercise and a nutritious diet as an alternative to traditional medication. Cost and limited access to quality care have been barriers for the subsidy-eligible in leading healthy lifestyles but programs such as these are helping patients to take charge of their own well-being.
This creates opportunity for health-conscious brands, from fitness and activity centers to healthy foods and markets, to exercise apps and tracking devices, to motivate the government and/or health insurance companies to back their products and services. Partnering with health care providers who have a vested interest in the health of their patients could be a win-win for everyone.
An insurance provider partnering with healthy lifestyle brands would also reap the benefits in the resulting positive PR, and their return on investment would be fewer patients with chronic illnesses in the future. It would be logical for them to back a product or service that helps patients get healthier and brands can take advantage of this while positioning themselves in a way that makes their names synonymous with medicine.
Most large health insurance companies already offer yearly fitness reimbursements as part of employee benefits, and many companies now have incentive programs that reward employees for engaging in healthy behaviors. If healthcare providers could take advantage of this type of ongoing incentivized encouragement, they would be treating patients as patients 24/7 — not just when they are being treated for an illness, but every day when they are making the right choices and taking a proactive role in their health.
If more hospitals adopt this sort of outlook, prescribing educational health apps for smartphones could become standard practice. Insurance providers might also consider investing in organizations that teach healthy habits in the hopes of not only lessening disease, but also more positive treatment outcomes and a reduced likelihood of readmission.
People inherently trust doctors and rely on their expert advice. If you can get physicians and health insurance providers to back you, and make your brand “prescribe-able,” by positioning it as not only beneficial for the consumer but for public health at large, you’re primed for success.