Omada Health launches new online diabetes prevention program

In late 2011, a small San Francisco start-up, Omada Health, raised $800,000 in seed funding from a number of venture investors. According to Tech Crunch, the group's mission was to combat diabetes using the latest in behavioral science and digital technology. Last month, the fruits of those efforts made their debut with the launch of Omada Health's new online diabetes prevention program, Prevent.

The New York Times reported that nearly 26 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and an estimated 79 million additional Americans may also have pre-diabetes, or elevated blood glucose levels that put them at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One in five health care dollars is put toward the care of people with diabetes, and a third of all Medicare spending goes toward treating the disease and its complications. Prevent aims to curb this trend through an online diabetes prevention platform.

According to The New York Times, Prevent is a four-month program that costs $120 per month. Each participant is equipped with a scale with a wireless transmitter and a pedometer, which automatically update their weight and activity metrics to a personalized website. Members are divided into online support groups comprised of ten to 12 members each -- matched by age, location and body-mass index -- and assigned a "coach" to guide progress and answer questions. According to Sean Duffy, chief executive and co-founder of Omada Health, Prevent's social aspect is key.

"Social connections and accountability lead to success in behavior modification," Duffy told The New York Times, "so you want groups that have a sense of being in a similar state in their lives, going through the experience together."

The New York Times also reported that Prevent was designed to be the online version of a 2002 government-financed project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health called the Diabetes Prevention Program, which found that behavioral weight-loss programs can be more effective at combating diabetes than medication. On average, the program's pre-diabetic participants reduced their risk of progressing to diabetes by 58 percent by achieving certain weight loss and exercise goals. A 10-year follow-up recently found that they maintained a 34 percent risk reduction. Through Prevent, Omada Health hopes to replicate these results on a larger scale.

"Evidence-based programs like Prevent can help equip doctors with the tools they need to combat the soaring diabetes epidemic in our country," Dr. Anne Peters, Director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Program, told Tech Crunch. Peters noted that lifestyle interventions have not been easy for doctors to prescribe, and primary care physicians may not recognize or treat pre-diabetes.

According to Forbes, Omada plans to start additional pilots with two hospital systems and one self-insured employer, and Duffy hopes that Medicare reimbursements will eventually include diabetes prevention programs like Prevent.

"If this [program] were a pill, it would be commercialized," Duffy told Forbes.

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