Behavior Change is An Opportunity that mHealth Can Address

Posted in Mobile Health by Arundhati Parmar on January 16, 2014

 The ability to change behavior is one of the foremost opportunities that mhealth or digital health affords. 

Changing behavior - one of the most intractable problems in the healthcare industry - may have gotten a little bit easier with the advent of mhealth or digital health.

In fact Karl Hess, working in mhealth market and business development at digital health startup Welldoc, considers behavior change something that has really created opportunities for mhealth.

Interested in mHealth or digital health? Register for the inaugural MD&M Executive Summit Feb.10-11, Anaheim Marriott, and hear from experts in mHealth from WellDoc and

“The most fundamental opportunity that exists in mhealth or digital health are enabled by behavior change," Hess said. "People have a device that they keep on their person every waking hour on average 17 hours a day. They look at it on average 100/150 times a day for different reasons.

With that observable set of data points, there comes the opportunity to interact with someone, to educate them, to leverage and push information, to gather information, to analyze behavior, to get to the point where you can determine what kinds of behavior change are going to positively impact someone either in terms of their disease state or condition or lifestyle.”

Karl Hess, mhealth market and business development, WellDoc

Leveraging cell phone and smartphones technology, WellDoc and Hess want patients to be able to manage one of the most expensive chronic diseases there is - diabetes. The cost of managing diabetes has jumped 41% to to $245 billion in 2012 from $174 billion in 2007, according to the American Diabetes Association.

WellDoc’s mobile solutions incorporate, coaching, education and information tailored to individual diabetics based on their behavior and personal data to keep their blood glucose levels controlled and manage the disease.

Hess knows a thing or two about being able to effect behavior change.

The company’s diabetes management app was the first mhealth app that the FDA cleared to provide automated, real-time behavioral patient coaching and clinical decision support.

In 2011, the company proved through a clinical trial that when patients used its diabetes management mobile platform for a 12-month period, they were able to reduce ER visits and hospitalizations by 58%. Further, and more importantly, a clinical trial showed that patients using WellDoc's mobile coaching platform were able to reduce their blood glucose levels more than those who were using traditional methods of disease management.

Numbers like these are hard to ignore.

No surprises then that the Baltimore, Maryland company has won attention from drug makers who make diabetes drugs. Last week, it announced that it raised $20 million from drugmaker Merck and Windham Venture Partners. In fact, up until last week, Welldoc had never raised money from institutional investors at all, preferring to go the angel route.

The money will be used to expand the use of BlueStar, the world’s first FDA-cleared mobile prescription therapy, nationwide.

In fact BlueStar functions, similar to a pharmacy benefit in that it needs to be prescribed by a physician and is reimbursed by insurers.

“Giving patients access to a prescribed mobile therapy that helps tailor treatment to an individual’s needs and their physician’s orders may prove to be a major advancement in diabetes management.” said Dr. Richard Bergenstal International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet and former president of the American Diabetes Association, in a statement in June when the product was launched in June.

But BlueStar does more than prompt patients to take their medication or alert them to recheck their glucose levels. It also provides vital decision making support for physicians charged with caring for their diabetic patients.

In fact, one of the goals in 2014 is for more physicians to be aware of WellDoc and for more of them to be prescribing the BlueStar app.

Yet, WellDoc has more ambitious goals. The company has had discussions with companies that manufacture glucose meters to either manufacture a meter compatible with its mobile platform or develop one that has WellDoc’ software integrated within it.

A more long range plan is to create apps for international markets where diabetes is exploding.

“We've talked to some organizations in the Middle East where the prevalence amongst certain bands of middle-aged females is as high as 50% for Type II diabetes,” Hess noted. “But we’re a small company and these things take time and money.”

Hess will be speaking on a panel about mHealth trends at the inaugural MD&M Executive Summit, Feb.10-11, at the Anaheim Marriott.

[Photo Credit: iStockphotoc,com user -hakusan-]

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