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Personalized Wellness: A Virtual Dietitian

Health & Wellness Gets Personal: Part 2

Healthcare has made valiant efforts to guide consumers to beneficial foods, only to find the information quickly forgotten within hours of leaving the doctor’s office. Understanding nutrition labels on packaged foods has proven to be a formidable barrier to time-starved shoppers in today’s vast supermarkets filled with a dizzying array of thousands of products. To have significant impact, guidance to beneficial foods has to be easy, convenient, and contextual to the shopper and it is only today that we have the technology necessary to do this.

The time is right as the healthcare and food industries are primed for change as traditional business models, practices, and products crumble in the face of financial pressures, profound change in consumer preferences, and technology-fueled innovation. As data from across the healthcare and food industries is increasingly stored in the cloud it is becoming easier to link previously disparate data to power personalized wellness.

Health data: Health records are rapidly becoming digitized and stored in the cloud where they can be used, under HIPAA compliant processes, to inform nutritional recommendations. Beyond this, prescription data can be used (again in HIPAA compliant fashion) to infer a disease state or health condition. Wearable devices are moving beyond activity tracking to provide monitoring of key health indicators. As an example, it is reported that Apple is working on non-invasive glucose monitoring via the Apple Watch. Increasingly, health condition data is becoming available in real-time.

Nutritional requirements: A vast number of peer-reviewed research studies establishing wellness criteria for nutrition-sensitive health conditions are leveraged to drive recommended macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals at a granular level for specific conditions and combinations of conditions.

Beneficial products: The recommended nutrients for a given health condition are then compared to the nutritional data of the tens of thousands of food products available, effectively creating a subset of products across the supermarket that are beneficial to the individual and their health condition.

Purchase data: Shopper-identified purchase data, gathered through retail loyalty programs and online shopping, is used to provide deep insight to a shopper’s food proclivities, brand preferences, preferred package sizes, discount propensity, product purchase frequency, and more, to further refine the subset of beneficial products and make recommendations most likely to be purchased—and provide an improved outcome.

These building blocks—health data, nutritional requirements, beneficial products, and food purchase data—form the foundation of personalized wellness. Understanding which of the 40,000+ products offered by the typical supermarket are beneficial to a given health condition effectively creates a ‘store within a store’ for the shopper. For the shopper with hypertension, personalized wellness filters the tens of thousands of products available to provide the shopper with a subset of beneficial products across the dozens of categories in the store. Further, using sophisticated AI-powered marketing personalization technology, beneficial product recommendations are communicated to the individual shopper that align with the shopper’s expressed preferences in brands, package sizes, flavors, and even purchasing frequency.

A Virtual Dietitian

Customers of Carnival Cruise Lines receive an Ocean Medallion, a wearable device, a week or two prior to departure. The cruisegoer is invited to go online and create a profile linked to their wearable which includes any dietary requirements and meal preferences. When on the cruise, the Ocean Medallion acts as a digital room key, digital wallet, and automatically informs the waitstaff in the dining room as to that customer’s dietary requirements, the meal personalized to the individual per the information wirelessly conveyed.

Consumers are already predisposed to a customized shopping experience as they demand the marketing relevancy and personalization experienced online from the brick and mortar retailers they trade with. Retailers like Coborn’s and Foodtown are providing customization in the form of personalized weekly ads and relevant promotions.

Personalized wellness as we envision it provides a concierge service to consumers, a virtual dietitian helping guide them to products beneficial to their health condition as they shop their preferred stores. Rather than an Ocean Medallion, retailers can leverage in-store location technology and the shopper’s smartphone to help guide the shopper to beneficial products while that shopper is in the aisle, drawing on knowledge of the health condition and real-time shopper location in the store. Using the same technology, the retailer can message the shopper with an easy-to-prepare beneficial dinner recipe when the shopper enters the store in the late afternoon in search of dinner that night.

Next in Part 3: Aligning Healthcare and Food

Gary Hawkins is the founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART). He can be reached at gary.hawkins@advancingretail.org

Dr. Marcus Sredzinski is the COO and EVP of Medical Security Card, LLC. Dr. Sredzinski has more than 24 years of experience in healthcare, working with the nation's largest insurers, health plans, pharmacies and pharmaceutical organizations.

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