Digital chronic disease management programs' advantage? Supporting patients at the point of need

Omada's Dr. Cynthia Castro Sweet describes the advantages of digital platforms for chronic care, as well as the increasing demand for evidence of their value.
By Dave Muoio
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It’s little secret that chronic conditions are a heavy burden on the healthcare system. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity and others can stick with a patient for decades, often leading to increased spending on disease management programs and costly visits when those efforts aren’t making an impact.

What’s worse, many of the clinical advances of the past decade or so haven’t substantially moved the needle for those living with these conditions, said Dr. Cynthia Castro Sweet, senior director of clinical research and policy at Omada Health. With this in mind, her company and others in the digital chronic disease management space are making a point to stress the key advantages technology-driven programs bring — convenient patient support, delivered right at the moments when they can benefit most.

“With the advent of digital health platforms, we are there when people need us,” Sweet told MobiHealthNews. “So as they’re making their next meal, or as they’re checking their glucose, or as they’re looking at their medications, they can access their coaches and their own information to start to put together how their behavior patterns influence how they are feeling and how well they feel they are doing with their conditions.”

Sweet will be speaking on a panel of digital health companies and providers at next week’s Connected Health Conference in Boston discussing the challenges regarding chronic disease care. The group, which also includes representatives from Lark Health. And Massachusetts General Hospital, will be tackling the roadblocks digital programs will need to overcome in order to gain widespread implementation — for instance, the generation of convincing clinical data describing the efficacy of these kinds of strategies.

“Evidence is always going to be essential for moving policy, so that these programs can be made available to people and get written into health plans so that there’s no longer this conversation of traditional formats versus digital formats,” Sweet said. “If we can provide the evidence that we have got the same efficacy, that helps to sway that conversation and helps to move policy. [Omada is] really committed to that and have studies under way — we’ll be revealing some results in the coming year. We can’t give anything away yet because we can’t peek under the curtain until they’re really done, but by mid-next year we’ll have some results to share.”

This kind of evidence can’t be limited to clinical outcomes alone. Program costs are a major concern when it comes to chronic disease management in particular, Sweet said, but that challenge provides an opportunity for scalable programs that have put in the work to demonstrate their value.

“As a nation, we’re spending a lot of money taking care of people with diabetes and we’re not getting great results. I think there’s a lot of immediate pain the payers are feeling, and [they] are looking for some potential solutions,” she said. “You’ll see in a lot of digital health companies, lots of what we’re doing is looking for that ROI, exploring where the cost savings are found. [We have that] front and center with our clinical evidence because we know it’s an important outcome that’s going to sway payers to make these programs more available.”

The panel will also speak to the factors that comprise successful digital chronic disease management programs, which Sweet noted isn’t solely the technologies at their core. Take for instance a continuous glucose monitor — a useful device in its own right, but not enough to drive behavior change on its own.

“It’s how we put [CGMs] to use, and how we maximize the benefits of information we get out of those monitors,” she said. “I think we’ll have some provocative discussion around that, about what is the best way to use CGMs, and how do you pair that with other elements of care to really realize that potential. Because you can build a better gadget — studies have shown that monitors in and of themselves are not effective, you need the other components. I think that’s where science and innovation really need to come into play: to find out how we can best marry devices with support and coaching intervention to help people understand their information and act on it in a thoughtful way.”

The Connected Health Conference’s “Chronic Disease Management” panel will be held at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, October 18 in Waterfront 2 and Waterfront 3.

Connected Health Conference

Join PCHAlliance and the Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston Oct. 16-18.