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When it comes to risk factors for heart disease, not all of us are created equal. Research shows that South Asians experience heart disease five to 10 years earlier than other ethnic groups South Asians comprise individuals from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and neighboring regions. Asian Indians make up the highest percentage of South Asians and India has the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world. South Asians also develop diabetes and heart disease at a lower body weight, which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has established lower healthy weight limits for South Asians.

In response to these health concerns, doctors and researchers at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) designed an innovative employee wellness program to help South Asian employees at Cisco in San Jose, California, understand their risk factors and develop a plan to improve their overall health. This included helping Cisco employees understand their South Asian adjusted risk “numbers” and develop a culturally tailored plan for healthy lifestyle habits.

Cisco Signs on with PAMF

In 2009 PAMF began its pilot program with Cisco. The Personalized Health Program for South Asians (PHP-SA) program was a culturally sensitive employee wellness program designed with South Asian employees in mind. The fully electronic program was co-created and coached by PAMF’s Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., also of South Asian descent, and focused on a healthy diet, regular exercise and behavior change. The six-month program encouraged the use of a health risk assessment (HRA) which was customized to reflect the diet and lifestyle of a South Asian respondent. Dr. Sinha is co-creator of PAMF’s South Asian health website, and lectures at many Bay Area Companies to advocate employee wellness and prevention.

Personalization Supported by Online Program

In addition to personalized medical and lifestyle coaching, the program was supported by the EMPOWER-HW™ (Engaging and Motivating Patients Online With Enhanced Resources – Health and Wellness) system developed by PAMF. This comprises a range of high tech components that deliver a personalized risk report and healthy action plan tailored to each individual’s needs. The tools help set meaningful goals and track progress, with a weekly digest of individualized advice presented as “nuggets” of information, many presented in multimedia form as video clips. This innovative employee wellness program also included active communications with the participants, making use of online messaging and monthly Webinars, where Dr Sinha highlighted a particular “hot topic” and the attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and explore concerns.

Employee YouTube Video Contest

To generate continued interest in the program, Dr. Sinha created a “Show us Your Moves” video contest and encouraged participants to submit a video showing how they integrate exercise and wellness into their daily lives.

Personalized Health Program for South Asians (PHP-SA): How it Worked

According to Dr. Sinha, “the three hallmarks of the PHP-SA program included cultural sensitivity, customization and convenience.”

* Cultural Sensitivity: PHP-SA was created by doctors, researchers and nutritionists with extensive experience and expertise in caring for South Asian patients. All of the information is sensitive to South Asian culture, diet and lifestyle habits.
* Customization: Creating a plan that is customized to fit your needs is important. Whether a person eats a vegetarian South Indian diet, a mix of South Asian and Western foods, or any other combination, PHP-SA customizes a plan to meet the person’s preferences.
* Convenience: The greatest obstacle to South Asians achieving optimal health is a lack of time. With this in mind, PHP-SA was designed to be a high-tech health program that can be conveniently integrated into the demanding schedules of South Asian employees. Unlike many health programs where people must schedule time to attend regular meetings, PHP-SA functions like a virtual coach that brings participants vital information that can be accessed from work or home.

PAMF – Cisco PHP-SA Results

The program proved to be a success in increasing employee engagement about health issues and reducing risk factors. There was a total weight loss of 28 pounds (based on 18 participants) and commonly elevated South Asian cholesterol numbers such as the triglycerides dropped an average of 12 points. 90 percent of participants stated that it was “extremely important” to participate in a culturally tailored program.

“The pilot was designed to raise awareness of the unique health challenges in the South Asian population and to encourage employees and their families to tackle those challenges to reduce their health risks,” said Sharon Gibson, Director, Healthcare Practice, Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco. “Participants told us that, unlike other programs, this one resonated with them. Dr. Sinha and his team understood the health issues, but perhaps more importantly, understood the cultural, dietary and family dynamics that impact health. This made all the difference and participants who were previously unsuccessful made great strides towards reducing their risk factors and paving a way for improvement of their health status over the long run. We couldn’t be more pleased.”


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