You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Dec 10, 2009 : 6:03 a.m.

HealthMedia's new products offer digital alternative to health coaching

By Nathan Bomey

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are the targets of digital coaching technology introduced this month by Ann Arbor-based HealthMedia Inc.

Health care industry professionals hope that Web-based software can provide a cost-effective alternative to in-person health coaching.


HealthMedia President Ted Dacko believes the company's digital health coaching products can play a critical role in helping to solve the nation's health care crisis.

Melanie Maxwell |

With that in mind, HealthMedia is introducing two new digital coaching products designed to help people identify potential health risks and change their behavior to avoid future health problems.

“We firmly believe that digital coaching is a fundamental way to deal with the health care crisis,” HealthMedia President Ted Dacko said. “And perhaps the only way.”

HealthMedia’s aggressive pursuit of revenue associated with prevention of chronic disease comes as Congress is considering a major health care reform package that is likely to include further incentives for disease prevention initiatives.

The products also accelerate HealthMedia’s evolution since the company’s October 2008 acquisition by Johnson & Johnson, which maintained the University of Michigan spinoff’s office on First Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

The firm is adding to its focus on risk assessment technology by developing software that offers suggestions for how consumers can tailor their behavior to avoid health problems.

“We’re evolving the concept of tailoring even further and moving toward emulating a health coaching session where there is no health coach,” Dacko said.

HealthMedia is introducing two new health-coaching products - one that addresses high blood pressure and another that tackles high cholesterol.

The coaching software conducts an online consultation, integrating knowledge of scientific research to predict a person’s potential health problems and suggest new behaviors.

“Digital health coaching is a very important part of prevention and wellness,” said Scott Foster, president of Royal Oak-based wellness firm Wellco Corp. and chairman of the Michigan Cardiovascular Business Alliance. “It’s automated, it’s low-cost and you can deliver expert content to all the nooks and crannies of your company.”

Prospective clients include insurance companies and corporations hoping to lower their health care costs. Detroit-based Health Alliance Plan, which has some 500,000 insurance members, is among HealthMedia’s first clients for the two programs.

Terri Kachadurian, director of worksite health and wellness for HAP, said some 23 percent of 60,000 HAP customers who completed a health risk assessment survey had high-blood pressure and another 22 percent had high cholesterol.

Those figures mirror typical research in the general population. But HealthMedia says that an additional 33 percent of people have borderline high-blood pressure and another 33 percent have borderline high cholesterol - conditions that can lead to various heart conditions and other health problems.

Convincing consumers to reverse poor behavior to prevent chronic disease is the central goal of digital health coaching. Chronic diseases account for about 75 percent of health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s widely accepted that early detection and early intervention is important in helping people be as healthy as they can be,” Kachadurian said. “Anything that can be done to help someone find out if they have a health condition and help them change health behaviors and improve their health is welcome.”

Still, Foster said digital health coaching wouldn’t become a total replacement for traditional in-person coaching.

“In no means can it substitute for the personal contact needed to actually effect behavior change,” Foster said.

HealthMedia’s new products come after the company’s corporate parent, J&J, said in November that it would lay off up to 7 percent of its 118,700-person global workforce due to the economic crisis.

J&J has declined to discuss where the layoffs would occur, though HealthMedia may be shielded because of its double-digit revenue growth.

HealthMedia has some 168 full-time employees in addition to an unknown number of local contractors who are not technically considered employees. The firm indirectly employs several workers of Ann Arbor-based software and Web marketing firm Enlighten, for example.

Dacko said HealthMedia’s new digital health coaching products would play an important part in the company’s evolution.

“This is fueling our growth, and J&J is investing significantly in HealthMedia, allowing us to evolve our products into a much stronger position,” Dacko said.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.