MHN 2016: For Oscar, step tracking is about member engagement, not just health

By Jonah Comstock
11:38 am

Oscar Health’s step-tracking program isn’t just about improving member’s health, Holly Bui, Oscar's General Manager for California, said in a presentation at the MobiHealthNews 2016 event in San Francisco this week. It also improves members’ engagement with other offerings and helps keep a larger number of healthy people on the platform.

“What we found is that step tracking is a little bit addictive,” she said. “People get really into it, and what that means is that people are logging into the Oscar app daily to see where they stand in the middle of the day relative to their step-tracking goal.”

Members can use any tracker, either software or device, that integrates with Apple HealthKit in order to track their steps. Originally, when the company rolled the program out in New York, they offered free Misfit trackers to members. The step tracking happens right in the Oscar app, which generates a custom step goal for each member each day. Each day they meet the goal, members earn $1 for a maximum of $100 in a year, delivered as an Amazon gift card members can collect once they’ve earned $20.

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“Having a different goal every day means that people actually log into the app, to see what their goal is that day,” Bui explained. “What do I have to do to earn this dollar? Secondly, of course, we have volumes of data about how much you walk. So it’s important for us to think of this in a highly customizable way, because not everyone is as active as everyone else, and we want a program that’s engaging for all.”

Overall, one in three Oscar members use step tracking, but 80 percent of those members who download the Oscar app use step tracking. Despite the high level of engagement, when responding to a question from the audience, Bui confirmed that the health insurance company doesn't use this data actuarially.

"We don’t currently use biometric tracking for actuarial decisions," she said. "It’s flawed, it’s not a good reflection of someone’s physical health and we realize that. There had to be other goals for setting up this program, and engagement was really the main one."

Perhaps the most interesting insight in Bui’s talk was that collecting step data isn’t really about the data for Oscar, nor is it entirely about supporting the patient’s health, though that is one goal. It also creates a feeling of value for Oscar members who don’t actually make use of the health plan that much. 

“We find there’s this pocket of the population where, at the end of the year, they look back and see how much money they spent on health insurance, and they say ‘I never go to the hospital. I don’t go to the doctor,’” Bui said. “The person doesn’t engage with the healthcare system so they don’t see a ton of value in buying health insurance. … So one of the things we’re challenging ourselves to think about is ways we provide value to the healthy people in the pool. And the step tracking program, creating a way for people to generate data that they’re really engaged with, is definitely one of them.”

Beyond that, Oscar has data that shows people who use step tracking also use other features of the app, including remote visits via Teladoc, with greater frequency. And having some means to increase member awareness is going to be important as the company adds additional features. 

Bui spoke about Oscar’s plans to add more features that will see Oscar working with the providers in its networks. That could include pinging providers when their patients show up in the ER and paying those providers to follow up with those patients. This "ER ping" feature is currently being piloted in New York City. Eventually, Oscar would like patients to be able to book appointments through the Oscar app as well.