Walgreens amps up health tracking rewards program with Fogg's behavior change method

By Brian Dolan
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Fogg speaking at SXSW last year. Fogg speaking at SXSW last year

Retail pharmacy company Walgreens is bolstering its rewards program by training some of its pharmacists and online customer reps in Stanford psychologist and mobile health expert Dr. BJ Fogg's behavior change methodology, called Tiny Habits. Over the years Fogg has had considerable influence in mobile health through his advisory services to industry, published works, and his series of Mobile Health events hosted at Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab, which he founded.

This is the third annual revamping for Walgreens Balance Rewards program's digital health components, which began including simple step counts from an Omron pedometer in late 2011 and added a number of new connected health devices and apps a year later. Now Fogg's behavior change methods will help Walgreens loyalty card-carrying consumers habitually use digital health tools and support them in making healthier decisions throughout their day. Walgreens counts 81 million active members in its entire loyalty program, which -- like most such programs -- rewards consumers for a number of different interactions they have with the store, not just for health tracking. 

The latest iteration of the health tracking portion of the program, called Walgreen's "Balance Rewards for healthy choices" was previously called Walgreens Steps with Balance, which included many of the health device and app integrations but not the Fogg behavior change piece. Before Steps, Walgreens offered an activity-focused program called Walk with Walgreens that supported an Omron pedometer for step counting but no other personal health devices.

The Balance Rewards program incentivizes users with points that can be redeemable for coupons for select items at Walgreens stores. The new habit support component aims to help consumers form healthy habits and thus earn more points, which they get for tracking, the program doesn't yet reward users for adopting and sustaining a health habit specifically but tracking in many cases is evidence of that.

The program supports a variety of activity and sleep trackers from companies like Jawbone (and BodyMedia), Fitbit, iHealth, and Withings as well as connected blood pressure cuffs, a connected glucose meter, a pulse oximeter, and connected weight scales. The program also integrates data from apps by MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and LoseIt.

“Adopting a consistently healthy action like practicing a balanced diet, exercising more or changing other lifestyle habits is typically not easy,” Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of pharmacy, health and wellness said in a statement. “Through our Balance Rewards for healthy choices initiative, Walgreens encourages participants to adopt healthy actions with the added support and guidance of our pharmacists and Walgreens online Pharmacy Chat agents trained on Dr. Fogg’s Tiny Habits approach. This is a perfect fit for a community pharmacy based program in which our pharmacists have frequent contact with consumers.”

“Pharmacists are respected and trusted sources for ongoing support and can help people recognize that they’re succeeding on their health care journey with small steps," Fogg said. "That feeling of making progress can help participants form healthy habits.”

Walgreens plans to add support for rewarding nutritional eating in the future and it will roll out a smoking cessation program this September that will also be integrated to the platform. The retail pharmacy chain said it plans to add other features to the program soon, too.

Health plans and other payers that partner with Walgreens can establish their own activities for their members that they would like to reward. Walgreens points out that a program like this could help "payers meet higher patient engagement, HEDIS and 5 Star goals."

For more on Fogg's behavioral change methods, watch this video of a discussion he led at SXSW last year.