To help its members prevent or manage diabetes, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota opted for a virtual solution.
The Minnesota health insurer has partnered with Omada Health, based in San Francisco, to offer technology-enabled disease education and management programs to its members with diabetes or prediabetes. Omada Health has separate programs for each disease that are based on nationally recognized training and education programs.
The Omada programs feature live coaches who help patients improve their biometric data, such as weight or A1C levels. Using data analytics to parse data collected through connected devices, including scales and glucose monitors, Omada Health derives a personalized program for each participant. Using a digital app on their smartphones, members connect with their coaches through texting or virtual visits.
The intimacy of a personal coach and the convenience of virtual care appeal to Blue Cross members, explains Jen Benner, clinical product manager at the Minnesota Blues plan, whose parent company has invested in Omada. The pairing of a coach and a virtual care is especially important for individuals with diabetes, she adds “because they have so many decisions to make every day.”
Omada Health is not alone in selling technology-enabled programs to help peopleprevent or manage diabetes. These programs are moving quickly from being novelty items for early adopters into mainstream use. The move from the fringe is something to encourage, says Michael Sturmer, senior vice president of health services for Livongo, a publicly traded disease management company in Mountain View, California.
“What we are really focused on with our health plan partners and our PBMs is really changing their mindset from digital health as this add-on or buy-up to digital health as part of the core benefits that a member expects to get when they sign up for their health plan,” says Sturmer.
Virtual, tech-enabled programs for diabetes are catching on for any number of reasons. First, there is prevalence of diabetes and the associated expense. The American Diabetes Association says about 30 million Americans have diabetes and estimated that in 2017, an American diagnosed with the disease incurred, on average, $16,750 per year in medical expenses. Second, the programs seem to be producing promising results. Independent studies are few and far between, but the vendors have released their own study results showing weight loss and improved A1C levels.
Virta Health, a San Francisco company that says its goal is not just to manage type 2 diabetes but reverse it, uses technology to help participants limit carbohydrate intake. The company released results that it claims show that its technology reversed type 2 diabetes in 60% of its patients. This means the patients’ blood glucose readings are in a normal range, without diabetic-specific medications. For some of its earliest patients, those results have been sustained for four years, according to CEO and co-founder Sami Inkinen.
Meaningful weight loss
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota began using Omada’s diabetes-prevention program in 2015. The program for individuals with full-blown type 2 diabetes was adopted in 2019.
The prevention program includes intensive coaching for weight loss, goal setting, and an online peer-support group. It is designed to last 16 weeks, but members can remain engaged in the program for as long as they wish, say Benner, the Minnesota Blues clinical products manager. Participants also get a wireless digital scale that sends weight readings to Omada’s database.