Onboarding Participants For Mobile Health Coaching

Adding mobile health coaching to your program is a powerful way to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your program.

Director of Lifestyle Medicine at Optimal Heart Center & Chief Science Officer at Nudge

But those improvements don’t come just because you now have a flashy health app at your disposal for your participants.

Being more than “just another health program” requires a personal investment to develop a relationship and earn the trust of your participants, and that work starts before they download your mobile coaching app.

If you want your participants to connect with you via a mobile health coaching app then you need to be ready to, in the clearest possible possible, express to them why it will be better for them that they work with you this way.

The process of onboarding participants onto your mobile coaching app can make or break the success of your program. The rest of this post will give you several essential steps to follow, but remember, the more you can take these lessons and personalize them to fit each participant in your programs, the more effective you will become.

Key Steps BEFORE You Onboard Participants

You must provide the proper motivational environment whereby each individual is personally compelled to connect with you via the app and engage.

It is critical to reject the idea that failed onboarding and engagement is the “fault” of the participant. It isn’t always easy, but it is your job to ensure the mobile coaching experience is framed properly to communicate to people why they should participate.

Any time you spend on onboarding each participant, and any time you dedicate to refining your process will continually pay dividends for you as you find more success with each successive individual you work with.

Before you get too obsessed with conversion rates, I would suggest you avoid measuring the success of your onboarding process simply by the raw number of individuals you get onto the app.

Instead, base success based first on how effective you are at identifying whether a participant is ready to connect with you in this way, and second how many of those who are ready end up connecting with you.

Then the third peg of your strategy will be learning to effectively nurture and “cultivate” those who are not initially ready until they are intrinsically motivated to participate.

Here’s some additional information you can gain about potential participants to see if they are a fit and are ready:

  • Do they fit the profile of your target participant? (however you define it)

  • What is their level of personal “buy-in”? (self-driven or practitioner referral)

  • How comfortable are they with mobile apps and technology? (access and comfort-level)

Each participant needs to recognize a clear, personal reason for connecting with you via the mobile app. They must endorse the concept that by sharing personal data they will have a greater opportunity to be, and stay healthy.

For them to get “on board” they must recognize the strong link with personal reasons “why” they wish to be healthy. You can help this process by sharing the purpose of the app from your perspective, for example:

  • To enhance the connection between the participant and their coach or other health professional.

  • To better understand key health-related components while they are away.

  • To provide specific guidance within the context of their daily lives.

  • To help them keep their health top-of-mind amidst all the other chaos and competing priorities in their lives.

  • To stay connected in a simple, safe, convenient manner that fits into their lives.

The Onboarding Workflow

  1. Start with a basic script to guide the initial communication. For example, here’s one I’ve used with patients in the lifestyle medicine program of our practice:

    1. “We care about you even when you are not in the clinic/facility/other.  We take a different approach and have found a safe and easy way to connect with you even when you are not here. As part of your care we have developed a safe and secure app that can easily be added to your Smartphone. Would you consider connecting this way?”

  2. Guide the participant through a simple, step-by-step introduction of “how it works.” This begins with how to download the app, create an account, and connect with you. Make it as clear and simple as possible for them.

  3. Since the participant has not discovered the app on their own, they may not yet be excited to use it. Always start any data collection in a slow, staged approach. The best approach is to initiate your plan with any any data that can be collected passively by wearables or apps like Apple Health that are “built-in” to the smartphone. “Set it and forget it!” is a great starting philosophy.

  4. Clearly set expectations moving forward for how and what will be communicated in the app, and when to expect responses.

Once the participant is on the app, it’s essential you take the next step to make sure they quickly experience that the data they share will be specifically used in the personal guidance and care they receive.

This will seal the deal and set the stage for lasting participation and engagement.

Your Role Is Essential

We must always remember that health apps and wearables alone are not viable solutions for our participants.

Instead, it is incumbent upon us to put these tools already in the hands of our participants to the best use we can in order to help them achieve the health improvements they seek.

To do that we must embrace our role as the trusted guide our program participants need to help them keep their health top-of-mind, especially when we can’t be there with them.

We should employ mobile health coaching because it offers an efficient, uncomplicated, and effective means of engaging with our participants and helping them stay accountable.

Mobile health coaching can be our greatest asset with our participants, but only when we remember to use it for its most valuable purpose:  to support and strengthen the relationships we are building with our participants as we guide them to improved health.

We must personally invest our time to earn their trust if we wish to be of real value on their health journeys. Otherwise, we are all running “just another health program” and we all know how that goes for people who need to make a real change.

They try it until they feel like they’ve “failed” or until other immediate priorities arise and crowd out their focus on personal health.

Enabled by mobile health coaching, you are the glue that will finally make healthy change stick in the lives of those who come to you.