From the mHealthNews archive

Payers take a shine to personalized care

By Eric Wicklund

Forget Big Data (well, OK, not really). Payers are taking an interest in drilling down to individual caches of information to help members develop and stay on personalized care plans.

The latest to target the "Small Data" market is Aetna, which earlier this year announced a partnership with Toronto-based Newtopia to develop "highly personalized disease prevention plans" for its employer companies and their employees.

It's all about "understanding people in very particular ways," Jeff Ruby, Newtopia's founder and CEO, told mHealth News. "Based on the microdata of a person's life, we can shape content and deliver information" to each individual.

Newtopia recently completed a pilot program with Aetna employees that focused on Metabolic Syndrome, a condition that increases one's chance of developing diabetes, heart disease or stroke. The project analyzed genetic and personality information – gathered through questionnaires, health savings accounts, health benefit claims and other sources – to create a personalized wellness program. That program included access to an online coach for nutrition, exercise and behavior management, social health networking, gamification and integration with wearable health and fitness trackers.

[See also: 5 steps to get payers and providers to tap mHealth apps]

Ruby sees a huge market for the technology that extends far beyond chronic care management. "This isn't about how you drive a plan for someone who's already ill," he said. "You're working to identify individuals who are at risk, and developing a plan to motivate them to change lifestyles and behaviors."

The program can "help members address Metabolic Syndrome in a uniquely personalized way," said Greg Steinberg, MD, Aetna's chief of clinical innovation, in a prepared statement. Ruby and Steinberg also refer to this approach as precision medicine – a term that's certainly been in the headlines. They note that the collaboration is timely in light of President Obama's recently announced Precision Medicine Initiative, which targets the use of genetic modeling to develop personalized treatment models.

Ruby doesn't see the Newtopia platform as a genetic diagnostic tool, but as a "genetic engagement" platform, designed to foster relationships that can change behaviors better than any incentive program. He also thinks this platform can tie into the EHR, and sees Newtopia working with providers who want to develop a more complete care management plan.

"Digital coaching won't do it alone," he said. "You need a proactive, preventive approach that you don't find with a disease management or one-size-fits-all corporate wellness program."

See also:

EMR partnership ties mHealth into precision medicine

Payers explore new uses for apps