Discovery Vitality changes – good or bad?

By Angelique Ruzicka

What do you do when people are gaming (cheating) the system that you’ve built? What if, in addition to that, there are some systems that are not adequately integrating with your own and you can’t keep sufficient score of what your users are actually doing? The answer for Discovery Vitality, much to the dismay of Vitality members, was to delist from apps such as Adidas’ miCoach, Moves, RunKeeper, Strava, MapMyFitness and Timex. In addition, the heart rate data from Fitbit devices will also not be valid, as they do not currently appear in a format required by Discovery Vitality.

“We’ve refined the programme to be more clinically relevant and more verifiable. We noticed certain devices and applications have self-reporting and third party data integration which makes it potentially inaccurate and not verifiable. We are noticing an increase in data from people that are trying to game the system or record inaccurate information. People are swiping their cards at the gym and then leaving. There is talk about people putting their Fitbits on their dogs and there is advice on there on how to cheat and get more Fitbit data. We want to make sure that those who are doing the right thing are rewarded. So we are reducing the number of channels available for self-reporting and for third data integration which compromises the data,” explained Dr Shrey Viranna, CEO of Discovery Vitality.

The changes have garnered the ire of many Discovery Vitality members on social media. The problem is that many Vitality members have spent money on expensive devices that enable them to keep track of their fitness, heart rate and workouts. For many Discovery Vitality members earning enough fitness points to get to Gold and Diamond status enables members to boast about their achievement and with it, a sense of prestige is also met.

There’s no denying that the Discovery Vitality fitness points model works – it’s even being emulated abroad. “We have seen shifts in people that were originally inactive. That group of people have increased their activity by 40%,” boasts Dr Viranna. “Smokers have increased their activity by over 35%. We have seen overweight and obese people increase their activity by 30%. People with chronic diseases have been upping their activity by 22%.”

Why has Strava been delinked?

According to Discovery, integration with Strava has proved problematic. “In addition we are no longer able to support third party integrations or devices that allow self-reported data. At this stage, verified and self-reported data on Strava cannot be differentiated on our platform and we are therefore in the process of discontinuing this method of integration from Vitality effective 2 April 2016,” explained Discovery Vitality on its Facebook page.

So what now?

Members with Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone or Polar devices that used to link through MapMyFitness should relink their device to Discovery Vitality through the website or mobile app before these changes come into effect on 2 April. Members will continue to earn Vitality fitness points by using the following devices: Apple Watch, Samsung Gear Watch, Polar, Garmin, Suunto, TomTom, Jawbone, Fitbit, Fitbug, Withings and Misfit. Members can also use the Apple Health app using an appropriate iPhone, or S Health through an appropriate Samsung phone to track steps and earn up to 100 Vitality fitness points a day for 10,000 steps or more.

For those that have Fitbits that monitor steps you may want to sit tight and hang onto your device. Frustratingly, even though your heart rate data can’t be captured your steps can still be monitored by Discovery. Discovery has said it’s working with Fitbit to resolve the issues but this could take a couple of months.

Members who bought a Fitbit Charge HR or Fitbit Surge purely to measure heart rate in order to get more Vitality points and don't want to wait for a system resolution can exchange them for a chest strap that tracks heart rate that links to a smartphone.

Members currently using Suunto and TomTom devices linked through MapMyFitness – for either activity tracking or heart rate tracking – will continue to earn Vitality points, as these device companies are currently working on an alternative solution to integrate with us directly and we hope to have feedback from them in the coming months. No new device linking will be possible for future users of these devices from 18 March 2016.

Could the device I am currently using and that won’t be valid from 2 April be reinstated at a later stage?

There’s a chance that your delisted device or app that you are using could be reinstated at a later stage. Discovery Vitality said that device and app partners will be reviewed on a regulator bases and added when all relevant criteria are met.“We have consistently worked with several partners to make it more verifiable. There are others we are working with who we may re-introduce in the future. But unless we have a formal relationship with a certain device manufacturer or an app we don’t have any influence over that. In the spirit of trying to help our members we are constantly trying to make amendments,” explains Dr Viranna.

Dr Virana said he understood members’ frustrations: “I completely acknowledge that they can be angry and I hope I am not coming across as callous or indifferent. We are trying desperately to find a solution by each of these relevant cohorts. Almost all of them except for the apps where there is self-reporting and third party we think we are on track for solutions but can’t commit to timelines as it depends on multiple organisations working together.”

The question then for members is how long they are willing to wait for Discovery to integrate with the devices they initially had problems with. If you simply can’t wait as you are very active and earn points on a regular basis then it may be worthwhile buying a device that is compatible with and recognised by Discovery. Otherwise, there are alternative ways to get Vitality fitness points (see below).

What happens if I don’t have a fitness device?

There are many ways to earn fitness points. Members that swipe into the gym still get 100 points for doing so. Alternatively, you can take part in a workout with a Vitality Fit partner or take part in Run/Walk For Life. You can also earn 300 Vitality fitness points for participating in a free park run and up to 3,000 points for taking part in selected timed and verified races.

Do I earn fewer points?

If you’re not a marathon runner or tri-athlete you will be harder to earn the maximum number of points (see below). You’ll also be earning fewer points for the number of steps achieved in a day. Discovery Vitality used to grant you 50 points if you made between 5 000 to 9 999 steps a day, one hundred points if you tracked Track 10 000 to 12 499 steps a day and 300 points if you tracked 12 499 or more steps a day. This has now changed to 100 points maximum for 10,000 steps a day. “The removal of 300 points for 12,500 steps and the focus on a daily target of 10,000 steps and maximum of 100 points a day is designed to encourage members to be active regularly during the week,” argues Discovery.

Is Discovery encouraging members to over-train?

Changes to the way in which Discovery awards points for steps and heart rates has also got members hot under the collar and a flurry of messages have been made by concerned members on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook who believe that the maximum number of points is now not achievable.

Dr Viranna points out that Discovery Vitality does not want to be seen as a rewards business but a wellness business and as such the company felt the need to change the system a bit to challenge members into doing more. “Last year we launched a few significant changes to the programme, one of them being Active Rewards which I think is where the social media is reacting to. We want people to exercise throughout the year and not hit the cap and then disengage from the programme,” he points out.

Vitality argues that the 100-300 points ranges remain within reach of its members and are in line with global health guidelines. It said that its 1,500 and 3,000 points categories are in place to recognise the high performance athletes that take part in longer distance events.

“For the average person that is absolutely right. We are talking about people doing 30 minutes of activity three to five times a week. We don’t want people to do 600, 1,500 and 3,000 points. As you go further up the table that’s really for those doing marathons and half marathons, etc. It’s not for the average person. The vast majority of people should be looking at the hundred and three hundred points range of the table. Some people feel we have made it harder. I would argue 30 minutes four times a week is not a massive ask. Three hundred points is one Park Run. When we take the emotion aside and take a look at it the high range of the points is for a different type of athlete,” adds Dr Viranna.

Will I get penalised for not achieving my goals?

Dr Viranna explains: “We launched Active Rewards. It’s tailored to you and is adjusted to you on a weekly basis. After a few weeks, we will move it upward to shift your behaviour. We also move your targets down if you don’t meet them. It’s not meant to be harder or punitive. That would be unethical. We are doing it to encourage the member to constantly motivate and reward themselves. It’s completely up to them if they want to increase or decrease their activity.”

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