Virgin HealthMiles adds family members, teases new tracker, plans to change name

By Jonah Comstock
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gozone Virgin HealthMiles' current GoZone pedometer.

Virgin HealthMiles, a gamified employee wellness program, announced that, starting in October, it will let employees invite up to three family members to use the program for free. Between adding family members and drawing in new members because of the perk, Virgin HealthMiles expects its user base to see a big boost in the next year.

"On the scale side, we're hoping to quadruple our number of users in the next 12 months based on adding friends and family," Ron Hildebrandt, VP of product marketing, told MobiHealthNews. "So we are making big investments in our operations to make sure we can scale."

Because of privacy concerns, only family members 14 or older will be able to participate in HealthMiles' online and mobile platform, at least at first. Overtime, Hildebrandt said, he expects the platform will support younger participants.

Focus group testing revealed that the app and website didn't need to be modified to appeal to teenagers, so the company isn't changing it much. It is, however, adding features that enable families to compete in challenges together as a team, challenge one another, and see the whole family's statistics on one page.

Virgin HealthMiles also has its own activity tracker available to employees as part of its system, called the GoZone Pedometer. The company is planning a major update of that device -- with a new name -- partly to appeal to kids in the program. The new device will be launched at CES 2014.

"Our next version of our device will have much more of a personality, a very large screen," said Hildebrandt. "We expect the device to be the largest engagement vehicle for the kids in the family, and it's built with that in mind."

Virgin HealthMiles has 200 customers including large companies like Coca-Cola, AOL, and SunTrust. About 20 percent of those customers were already including spouses in their HealthMiles plans and eating the costs themselves, according to Hildebrandt. One of those companies is Ascend Performance Materials.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive with an 83 percent overall enrollment rate in the program and 52 percent of our members and 45 percent of spouses in the active or highly active category," Ascend's Total Wellness Director Michael Martin said in a statement. "With every wellness program that we offer today, we go out of our way to make sure that spouses are eligible to participate and receive incentives -- as we have seen the impact it’s had on employee engagement and productivity.”

Virgin HealthMiles made the decision to extend its offering to family members based on employee feedback, as well as a number of studies showing that including family members increases engagement and improves employees' opinions of their companies. One such study, from the Health Enhancement Research Organization and Mercer, found that extending a program to spouses caused participation rates to double.

Hildebrandt also told MobiHealthNews that the company is planning to rebrand and change its name, due partly to concerns about being confused with the airline.

Virgin HealthMiles announced a partnership integration with MyFitnessPal earlier this summer, adding it to a roster of existing integrations that includes Fitbit, Runkeeper, and Polar.