Kate Wolin wants to make all healthy habits as second nature as brushing your teeth. That’s her job as chief science officer at Interactive Health, a Schaumburg-based firm that designs employee wellness plans for corporations.

Wolin’s current project is figuring out how to get people to take their medicines faithfully. It’s a problem for health care providers, as half the prescriptions written in the U.S. aren’t even filled. The pilot project centers on people who have a risk related to taking their medication; it’s crucial to their health, for instance, or it’s a new medicine for them. Working with the pharmacy partners of some of Interactive Health’s 3,200 corporate clients, Wolin and her team of five are creating personalized, high-touch telephone chats that talk about the importance of taking prescriptions, as well as overall health and wellness.

The preferred method to date, daily reminders, hasn’t worked. “That feels like a nag,” she says. Her quest to make healthful habits second nature—no nagging required—entails reading science journals daily to find evidence-based tools that lighten “the cognitive load” around healthy behaviors, then figuring out how to scale those tools. What does work? Self-monitoring and individualized feedback. Wolin says a huge hurdle, though, is figuring out how to scale personalized coaching.

She successfully paired self-monitoring and feedback at ScaleDown, a weight-loss company that she and two co-founders launched in 2014. ScaleDown clients received a scale, synced to their cellphone, and were asked to weigh themselves daily. When they did, they received a peppy text message filled with personalized advice, such as tips for packing lunches for the week. ScaleDown grew to 145,000 users, who lost and kept off a mean 3 to 6 percent of their body weight. (Unaided, people generally lose weight, but within a year many gain it all back.) Wolin and her partners sold ScaleDown to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in November for an undisclosed sum.

Wolin, 40, has the ability to close the “vast gap” between health research and the business world, says Gary Bennett, a ScaleDown co-founder and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “She is able to speak the language of science and business and make that translation seamlessly,” he says.

Wolin spent her childhood in upstate New York. She earned a B.A. degree in anthropology from Tufts University in 1999 and in 2005 graduated from Harvard School of Public Health with a doctorate in epidemiology, behavioral medicine and biostatistics. She spent seven years in academia, as an associate professor at Washington University’s medical school in St. Louis and at Loyola University Chicago.

Her decision to pivot to digital health and the business world came in 2011, after she appeared on “Dr. Oz” to discuss the link between cancer and obesity. After the show aired, Wolin’s father told her he had no idea that obesity could cause cancer. “I started wondering whether my academic research was having the impact that it should,” she recalls. She joined Interactive Health, as its first-ever chief science officer, in December. The company says it is one of the bigger providers of wellness services, though it declines to share revenue figures.

Back to teeth-brushing: How exactly did it become second nature? “That’s a great question,” Wolin says—and it’s one she’s determined to answer.

 

Article via Crain’s Chicago Business 

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