Engaging Consumers in the Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the US: an Interview with Sean Duffy, Co-Founder and CEO of Omada Health

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Diabetes is one of our nation’s most pervasive and costly chronic conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (www.cdc.gov), 30.3 million US adults suffer from diabetes. Over 90% of those Americans have type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes. In fact, one in three American adults have prediabetes, which puts one at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. For the 84 million Americans with prediabetes, the CDC had developed the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) that helps them make the lifestyle changes needed to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and other serious health issues. 

Omada Health (Omada) is one of the technology companies that offers a CDC-recognized version of the DPP online. Omada has achieved remarkable results. The Pulse sat down with Sean Duffy, Omada’s Co-Founder and CEO, to learn about the Omada way of patient engagement. 


Diabetes is one of our nation’s most pervasive and costly chronic conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (www.cdc.gov), 30.3 million US adults suffer from diabetes. Over 90% of those Americans have type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes. In fact, one in three American adults have prediabetes, which puts one at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. For the 84 million Americans with prediabetes, the CDC had developed the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) that helps them make the lifestyle changes needed to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and other serious health issues.

Omada Health (Omada) is one of the technology companies that offers a CDC-recognized version of the DPP online. Founded in 2011 and with over $127 million of venture capital funding, Omada has improved the lives of over 140,000 individuals via its clinically-proven, digital therapeutics program. Other organizations such as the YMCA and the American Association of Diabetes Educators offer in-person DPPs; Omada’s digital program consists of a CDC-approved curriculum, personal health coach, and support group of individuals with similar goals and challenges. According to outcomes data provided on Omada’s website (www.omadahealth.com/outcomes), an average Omada participant lowers, within 12 months, his/her 5-year risk for type 2 diabetes by 30%, heart disease by 16%, and stroke by 13%. The company has also published nine peer-reviewed studies demonstrating similar, or better, results out to three years.

Omada also leads the way in terms of patient engagement. For the Omada program, nearly 65% of the participants were still engaged with the program after the first 12 months. This is significantly higher than the average 6.6% engagement rate of popular weight loss programs[1]. The Pulse sat down with Sean Duffy, Omada’s Co-Founder and CEO, to learn about the Omada way. Here are our four main takeaways:

 

I. Omada’s key to consumer engagement success is its internally-built, comprehensive therapeutics platform. When asked about what does Omada do differently, Duffy responds, “one key to what we’ve done at Omada is to build out and artfully combine every single aspect of the program (DPP) ourselves, including hardware, content, grouping infrastructure, coaching, and tracking.” Duffy further points out that the digital health space often gets trapped by the “single instrument fallacy,” which is the simplistic belief that health problems can be solved with just one device, such as a digital scale or tracker. One of Omada’s points of differentiation is its comprehensive approach, which Duffy has poetically described as building and orchestrating 100% of the instruments needed to make music for its audience.

 

II. Omada is deeply focused on making the user experience easy and personalized. While Omada has been successful at engaging its users, there is always space for improvement. Duffy identifies the lack of time as Omada participants’ biggest barrier to engagement. In addition to user interface tweaks, the Omada team also will be implementing a “snooze button,” which Duffy explains, “if it’s not the right time for you right now, tell us when you think it would be based on what you have going on in your life.” This allows the users to pick when they can fully engage.

Furthermore, Duffy describes Omada’s product adaption for underserved populations, including Medicaid enrolled individuals, those eligible for Medicaid, or the uninsured. Research has shown that not having a high school education and/or living below the federal poverty line are associated with twofold higher mortality from diabetes[2]. Omada has partnered with researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as well as large, safety net clinics to work with low-income prediabetes patients. When asked about how does Omada engage with an underserved population, Duffy outlines several modifications to its DPP, such as curriculum materials at a lower literacy rate, specialized health coaches, and further development of its mobile platform (the Medicaid population tends to use mobile over laptop). Early data indicates that Omada’s Medicaid participants have achieved similar results as the rest of Omada users. Duffy attributes this success to Omada’s different way of approaching the lower-income and elderly populations. Instead of asking the question of “can this population use this technology,” Omada asks the question of “can we build a technology intuitive enough so that this population can use it?” For example, Omada’s weigh scale automatically includes a cellphone chip, which prevents the users from having to pair the device with internet or link to bluetooth.

 

III. Omada’s focus on data allows it to train its health coaches, a vital part of the DPP. Omada’s digital platform has allowed the team and its clients access to a whole new level of data, which allows it to effectively train and measure its health coaches, and provide those coaches specialized alerts to deliver impactful interventions. When asked about how does Omada approach the development of its health coaches differently, Duffy states that Omada’s access to user outcome data allows its health coaches to understand what’s working, which participants are slipping, how they should allocate their time, and how they compare to other health coaches. Duffy emphasizes that the digital platform provides data that would be hard (if not impossible) to obtain from an in-person DPP.

 

IV. Omada’s engagement with its users has led to positive spillover effects on general healthy behaviors. According to Duffy, in addition to achieving return on investment for payers within 1-2 years of implementation, Omada helps payers save additional dollars by lowering participants’ overall healthcare utilization. Delving deeper into Omada participants’ claims data, Duffy states that Omada’s constant engagement with its participants – reminding them of healthy behaviors – leads to positive behaviors such as fewer unnecessary visits to the emergency room.

 

Duffy and the Omada team are leading the digital fight against diabetes and prediabetes. Duffy’s passion for and firm belief in digital therapeutics are apparent when he talks about the current changing consumer expectations. For Duffy, the current world is one in which “an in-person visit is viewed as second to trying to solve the person’s problem quickly and remotely,” especially for chronic disease prevention, which requires heavy engagement.

The Pulse team is excited to hear more of Duffy’s perspective on digital health and consumer engagement at the conference.

 

[1] Lorenzetti, L. “This Company Is Tackling Diabetes With 'Digital Therapeutics.'” Fortune. April 22, 2016.

[2] Saydah, S., & Lochner, K. (2010). Socioeconomic Status and Risk of Diabetes-Related Mortality in the U.S. Public Health Reports, 125(3), 377–388.

Quingan ZhouComment