Workforce Health + Benefits

Leveraging Technology to Enhance (Not Replace) Wellness Coaching

By Percy Bhathena, Senior Director of Cleveland Clinic eCoaching

There’s a reason the wellness programs at Cleveland Clinic aren’t fully automated and still leverage what I call a hybrid approach—leveraging technology to enable the human to human interaction. While other companies focus on AI and chatbots, I believe the challenge is to find the right balance.

I remember my junior high computer class. I was in seventh grade and I encountered a challenge that I still vividly remember today. At that time, computers were making their way into classrooms and my class had two TRS-80 (Radio Shack) Mini-Frames with a handful of dumb terminals connected. They’re affectionately known as "Trash-80s."

Image result for TRS-80 (Radio Shack) Mini-Frames

Our teacher, Mr. Knapick, challenged us, "If you can beat my score in the typing game, you’ll get an automatic A for the year and you don't have to do any homework.”

In my mind, there was no way I wasn't going to win that challenge. I came in early, stayed late, and went in during study halls and lunch to improve my score. After a couple of weeks of trying, I came to the sad resolution that I had hit my ceiling. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't beat his reaction time. The best I could do was 0.44 seconds. I could never reach his 0.42.

It was an impossible situation to this seventh grader until I changed the premise of the question: Did I have to beat the score or did I have to just make it look like I beat the score?

One day I made my way to the front of the room unnoticed and downloaded the typing game to my 5.25” floppy disk. I took it home, loaded it on my Tandy MC-10 and went to work. I didn't know much about coding, but I spent days going through the printout of the code looking for loopholes. In the end, I settled on hardcoding. It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it should work, I thought. I pasted in my name and a time of 0.39 seconds. I needed to make the time believable and yet out of reach because a faster time would still show me as the best time and score—a risk I had to take.

So, with floppy disk in hand, I went to upload the program into both mini-frames undetected. Halfway through, my teacher walked in. I thought I was busted but luck was on my side. He’d forgotten his lunch and walked back out. I quickly finished and then just waited until I had a witness in the room to show-off and proclaim my new high score. I cheated. I got out of homework and tests for my computer class. I changed the premise of the question.

So what does any of this have to do with wellness programs?

As humans, we try and beat the system when no one is looking in an attempt to get the most value with the least amount of effort. We aren’t accountable to AI or computers. It’s easy to circumvent the process and get your wellness points, click here and have a video play in the background, put your pedometer on your dog or kid, and read a few articles to win your company’s wellness challenges and earn the incentives. We find ways to be creative and to make the impossible easy, just like I did with the typing program.

What Cleveland Clinic eCoaching does differently is pair you with a human coach. You work with that coach daily through email, text, video, etc. to achieve your wellness goals. Participants in the program open up to their coach and become accountable to them, which has been proven successful in changing their habits.

Our coaches keep more than 80% of their participants engaged in coaching for over 144 days, with an average of 3.2 emails from the participant to the coach each week. It’s a sustainable model for behavior change.

At Cleveland Clinic, we believe the strongest interactions are human to human. Put up an automated wellness program and you invite people to creatively beat it – just like I did all those years ago.

Whether your participants are working towards weight loss, managing their stress or a healthier lifestyle overall, Cleveland Clinic eCoaching gets results.


Learn more about Cleveland Clinic eCoaching and what it means to have a wellness program that encourages and rewards meaningful engagement. 

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