‘Isahd’, meaning happiness in Arabic, is the name of the mandatory health insurance programme. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Dubai residents who adopt healthy steps such as eating salads, walking a couple of kilometres or opting for a sugar-free snack will be rewarded with incentives such as free gym membership or complimentary movie tickets or even a shopping voucher, Dubai Health Authority said.

The reward system, to be launched in partnership with the private sector, will be linked to the mandatory health insurance cover and will go live by March 2016, a senior official told Gulf News.

The scheme is being fine-tuned and will be revealed in detail later.

Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, director, health funding at the DHA and architect of the mandatory health insurance scheme, said: “For the first time in the country, the DHA is all set to use a behaviour modification tool to encourage healthy eating patterns and motivate residents to exercise. These kinds of tools are prevalent in the West. We are in the process of working out this scheme with our partners and, among other things, the rewards will also include free access to specialised health professionals or services, healthy meal vouchers, free subscription to health magazines and so on.”

All Dubai residents will be covered under the mandatory health insurance scheme by June 2016. The residents then have to register under Isahd community website.

‘Isahd’, meaning happiness in Arabic, is the name of the mandatory health insurance programme.

Once the user is registered, the points gained by adopting healthy habits can be logged on to one’s account and redeemed later.

Dr Al Yousuf added that the DHA hopes to collect important health details about Dubai residents from fitness tracking devices. “Data from apps such as Fitbit and participating outlets will be used to provide insured members with reward points. For example, if someone uses the gym three times a week, the data from the gym that is registered in this programme will let us know how healthy the user has been and how many points he should receive. The entire purpose of this scheme is to motivate all residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

Stake holders from the health-care sector have welcomed this initiative. Dr Saliha Afridi, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist said: “This is a simple, classical conditioning method where a person who gets an external reward is motivated to take the right step and positive behaviour is reinforced. Over a long term this practice can shape the behaviour of an individual and an entire community to a point where it will not require an external reward to make the right choice. This practice has been prevalent in some of the large corporate houses worldwide and its practice has proved that when employees make the right health choices, they are happier, absenteeism rate is lower and their productivity improves by leaps and bounds. When a nation takes care of the health of its people, the benefit spills over automatically in all sectors. I think it is a great investment in the future of a nation.”

Dr Raza Seddiqi, CEO of Arabian Health Care Group, said: “This kind of positive reinforcement is going to play a very important role in the community as the entire focus in health care has shifted from illness to wellness. People have realised how inconvenient it is to fall sick and they are likely to become active participants in the ‘health for all’ drive.”