Best's Review


Risk Adviser
Health Apps Must Focus on Immediate Desires (Put Down the Doughnut)

Human motivation should be at the heart of digital wellness design.
  • Leigh Allen, Peter Hovard and Carmela Tedesco
  • September 2021
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Insurers are no longer just talking about wellness; they're investing in programs, technologies and tools designed to help more people live longer, healthier lives. Yet, as with any effort designed to influence human behavior, wellness initiatives can force insurers to weigh complex trade-offs. Recent research by Reinsurance Group of America offers a window into how wellness programs and products can use the power of our human tendency for short-term thinking to achieve long-term priorities.

Digital health and wellness application options are readily available to consumers. As of 2020, over 400,000 health apps have been available for download from app stores, according to Imaginovation. Clearly, product designers see the potential of digital solutions to address health challenges, and life and health insurers are integrating wellness services into product offerings more than ever. RGA surveyed 107 global carriers to reveal wellness is a significant industry focus, with 85% of respondents noting that implementing wellness is a priority.

According to the survey results, more than half of respondents are currently providing wellness offerings, including wellness products linked to insurance products (71%), wellness enablers or digital tools and apps (67%) and mental health support (54%). When asked what strategies were driving this interest, respondents said improving underwriting was not a major motivating factor. Rather than focus on the use of data from wellness devices to better assess risk, respondents are embracing wellness as a path to improve the health and well-being of existing policyholders and, in doing so, to enhance brand loyalty.

Insurers' focus on in-force management makes sense, yet success relies on the far less straightforward task of altering human behavior. While, in theory, healthy activity should always be a top priority, often people knowingly exhibit unhealthy behaviors, from neglecting to exercise to adopting bad dietary habits. Behavioral studies suggest that a number of biases and influences can cause an individual's priorities to waver from moment to moment, and this changeability should be a consideration when designing and marketing wellness products. Often, people are driven less by long-term goals, such as better health, than by more immediate, hedonistic, and socially relevant goals.

It's easy for wellness product and app designers to target users' long-term health needs while staying blind to the short-term motivations that often drive behavior. That's why insurers surveyed reported pursuing a variety of techniques, such as personalization (60%), rewards (54%), predictive technology (48%), and gamification (46%), to keep each policyholder focused on their wellness goals. Evidence suggests that making these targets more immediately gratifying and achievable could prove particularly effective when driving behavior change. Beyond smart digital design, wellness programs and products need propositions and marketing strategies that appeal to short-termism to ensure consumer engagement.

Understanding how motivations and goals change and tailoring communications accordingly will help insurers to drive widespread adoption of app-driven wellness programs within their portfolios. The technology is not the motivation; the technology supports the motivational approach.




Best’s Review contributors: Leigh Allen, director, global surveys and distribution research, Reinsurance Group of America Inc., Peter Hovard, Ph.D., lead behavioral scientist, global data and analytics, Reinsurance Group of America Inc., and Carmela Tedesco, vice president, business initiatives lead, RGAX LLC. They can be reached at

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