Fortune 500 companies eye Keas as a way to bridge health and social

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on February 12, 2014

From The News Desk

Healthcare technology is pretty popular these days. Maybe it's because of the Obamacare rollout, maybe it's because healthcare infrastructure is trapped in the 90s and ripe for disruption, but we are now seeing a slew of companies claiming to work in some facet of the healthcare industry. A great deal of these companies work to streamline the doctor-to-patient process, or even revamp the health insurance business. There are others, however, proudly wearing the "health tech" badge, that are focused on fostering healthy lifestyles, and not necessarily the doctor-patient side of wellness.

Keas, a San Francisco-based company, is one of these non-doctor healthcare programs. It dubs itself a wellness engagement platform for employers, and has just announced a slew of new corporate customers using its services. These include several Fortune 500 companies, and big names like Target, Safeway, and the Cheesecake Factory (a company I wouldn't really associate with wellness).

Keas CEO Josh Stevens described the company's platform to me as a Facebook-like experience, generally for employers that house more than 500 workers, allowing company employes to connect with each other. So employers sign up for the service, roll it out to their employees, and then the employees can use it to connect with their colleagues and family about wellness, à la Facebook.

Keas's program offerings were described to me as "activities around nutrition, mind, and body." That is, people use the platform to track their health and play games that promote "healthy lifestyles" -- exercising, eating well, etc. The platform provides quizzes, challenges, goal-setting, even company incentives meant to foster a healthy lifestyle. The important part, as Stevens sees it, is that they then share it with friends and family.

Stevens believes that this is what makes the program work. "Health has to be social to be effective," he said.

To Stevens, the benefits of Keas are twofold: It creates a social camaraderie in a company, and hopefully prevents unnecessary health costs. He told me that employers generally spend $10,000 per employee per year on health insurance, and that 70 to 80 percent of that cost is what is considered "preventable." So Keas's big idea is that people who use it will become healthier than those who do not, which could cut down on healthcare costs in the long-run. Of course, this claim would be pretty hard to test without years of data.

What's interesting is the fact that Keas platform is completely voluntary. Employees don't actually have to participate, but according to Stevens, the social aspect is what reels them in. Since many companies ban social media use at the workplace, this is a way for coworkers and family members to connect with each other in a permissible manner. "We've created a forum that makes it sanctioned and okay to socialize with your colleagues and your family," he said.

And it may be paying off for employers too. Keas touts an internal survey that says that 81 percent of the participants felt more positive about their employer after using Keas. Keep in mind, the survey was for just three companies, and was also funded by Keas. But if employees aren't allows to socialize online, it does make sense that a sanctioned platform would make employees happier about their bosses.

It seems to be gaining popularity too. The company says it has 300 year-after-year growth, and now "covers" more than two million Americans. The company's founder, Adam Bosworth, hails from Google's failed Google Health program, but seems to have learned from some of its mistakes. Stevens said to me that Bosworth learned that "giving people their data just wasn't useful." There needed to be another element.

So, will employees at large companies start to see programs like Keas as a new norm? Maybe. But I'm guessing we'd need to see some hard data that it doesn't only make employees happier but decreases healthcare costs too.

[image adapted from photo by Justin Leibow]