Ezequiel’s work at Rally Health is focused on leveraging data to improve the effectiveness with which their digital products facilitate better consumer decision making. He has over two decades of experience in exploring solutions to help close the gap between people’s best health intentions and their actual behavior. In this journey, Ezequiel has become an expert in the intersection among population health, digital products, data and behavior change. He earned a PhD degree in psychological and brain sciences from Johns Hopkins University.
What do you believe the health and well-being industry has learned (or could learn) from the pandemic and social justice issues?
During these peculiar past months, many have lost their lives, others their jobs, and thousands of businesses have closed. All this is taking place while our society undergoes one of the most important social justice movements in recent history. But even though some have been acutely affected by these events, virtually everyone has been impacted by this pandemic and by the increased awareness of the need to improve on social equity issues.
At the macro level, these events have exposed areas of our society and its systems that need immediate improvement or a flat-out re-design. At the individual level, most of us have experienced the upending of our daily lives, including where we spend our time, how much we move, who we see face-to-face, to name a few. Those tangible changes are associated with a myriad of cognitive, emotional and physical new realities.
More than ever, we may now feel an acute low sense of loss of control over our lives. We are trying to move forward with our professional and personal lives in the context of a deadly disease, millions losing their jobs, not being able to move freely, and becoming somewhat socially isolated, all accompanied by an acute sense of uncertainty. We do not know how long this will last, how it will affect our families, our job security and our communities.
Altogether, current times are offering a great opportunity to learn about non-health related, including social, determinants of health. Health and well-being are usually consequences, not causes. But research and interventions too many times treat them as targets, not outcomes. We now have an opportunity to shift our attention to the real antecedents of health and well-being.
Thinking about the future, what do you believe should be the focus of research in the field of workplace health and well-being?
These times underscore how much our health and well-being depend on contextual factors. For this reason, further including the role of context and culture into new research efforts and solution developments are likely to be a new mainstream, and needed, direction.
The relevance of work-life balance in determining well-being and productivity is acquiring a whole new meaning. Boundaries between our professional and personal lives are blurrier than ever. In the past, someone could afford to be a full-time employee in the office and full-time family member at home. With a new reality in remote working arrangements, we all need to learn to fast switch between these roles. If we do not advance our knowledge in this area, we may be facing a well-being, burn-out and productivity loss catastrophe.
In terms of physical health, the new shortened distance radius of everyday activities will likely be followed by new sedentary patterns. The role of sedentarism —not defined by lack of physical activity, but by long bouts of sitting down— and its consequences is likely to take central role in how programs are designed around physical activity. The health consequences of unhealthier lifestyles may be worsened by the fact that a significant portion of our population is delaying preventive care.
Current unusually high levels of uncertainty on all fronts (economic, financial, health, etc.) is already generating increased prevalence of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. This is exacerbated by the lack of social face-to-face contact. This is already so noteworthy, that NORC recently reported data from a U.S. representative survey showing that Americans are at their unhappiest point in the last 50 years.
Health equity in physical and mental health will be at the forefront of many new initiatives. This is not just the right thing to do, but it will also make sense from a business standpoint. Developing personalized solutions for those who 1) have less access to healthcare; 2) have more difficulties navigating it; and 3) thus get the worse outcomes out of it, will help everyone.
What’s on your personal reading list that you’d recommend to fellow HERO members?
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Liliana Mason (link)
This book highlights the commonly overlooked link between identity and behavior. The author focuses on the increasing political polarization in America, but her logic and findings can be transposed to health. What we eat, what we choose for a sport and virtually all health behaviors are determined by our personal identity and group identifications. This book sheds some light on how we can move forward in this space in a systematic and rigorous manner.
The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less by Elizabeth H. Bradley, Lauren A. Taylor, et al. (link)
The concept of social determinants of health (SODH) is increasingly more pervasive, and the healthcare industry is increasing its investing in this area. Comparing data from dozens of industrialized countries, the authors make a convincing argument that the connection between healthcare investments and health outcomes is moderated by investments in social factors, such as transportation and housing.
Designing for Behavior Change: Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics by Stephen Wendel (link)
Wendel’s book succeeds in achieving two goals. First, it provides an excellent summary of behavioral change principles. Second, it does a great job in applying those concepts to concrete behavioral change digital solutions. Its elegant simplicity makes this book a must read, both for beginners and experts in the field.