Tag Archives: wellness

Aetna’s Metabolic Syndrome Innovation Program

I’ve been closely following Aetna’s innovation for the past few years (see post on CarePass and Healthagen).  I had the chance last week to speak with Adam Scott who is the Managing Director of the Aetna Innovation Labs.

Here’s Adam’s bio:

Adam Scott is a Managing Director within Aetna’s Innovation Labs, a group developing novel clinical, platform, and engagement solutions for the next generation of healthcare.  Mr. Scott specializes in clinical innovation, with a focus on oncology, genetics, and metabolic syndrome, as well as “big data” analysis.  His work is aimed at conceptualizing and developing products and services that better predict illness, enable evidence-based care and lengthen healthy lives.  Prior to joining Aetna, Mr. Scott’s 15-year healthcare career has included management roles in consulting, hospital administration, and most recently health information technology.  Mr. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  Mr. Scott resides with his family in Needham, MA, where he actively serves as a director on community boards.

This is one of my favorite topics – Metabolic Syndrome (although yes…I still hate the term).

Definition of Metabolic Syndrome from the NIH:

Metabolic (met-ah-BOL-ik) syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetesand stroke.

The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.

The Aetna Innovation Labs are focused on bringing concepts to scale and staying 2-3 years ahead of the market.  They are looking to rapidly pilot ideas with a focus on collecting evidence.  In general, Adam described their work as focused on clinical, platform, and engagement ideas.  They are trying to collaborate with cutting edge companies that they think they can help to scale quickly.  It’s pretty exciting!

As stated in their press release about this new effort:

“During the course of the last year, Aetna Innovation Labs has successfully piloted an analysis of Metabolic Syndrome and the creation of predictive models for Metabolic Syndrome. This prior work showed significantly increased risk of both diabetes and heart disease for those living with Metabolic Syndrome,” said Michael Palmer, vice president of Innovation at Aetna. “With this new pilot program with Newtopia, we are aiming to help members address Metabolic Syndrome through specific actions, before more serious chronic conditions arise, like diabetes and heart disease.”

Aetna selected Newtopia for this effort for their unique approach toward achieving a healthy weight with an integrative and personalized focus on nutrition, exercise, and behavioral well-being. Newtopia’s program begins with a “genetic reveal,” leveraging a saliva-based genetic test to stratify participants with respect to three genes associated with obesity, appetite, and behavior. Based on the results of this test and an online assessment, Newtopia matches each participant to a plan and coach trained to focus on the member’s specific genetic, personality and motivation profile. Through online coaching sessions, Newtopia will help members achieve results related to maintaining a healthy weight and Metabolic Syndrome risk-reduction, which will be measured by changes from a pre- and post-program biometric screening.

“Newtopia’s mission is to inspire individuals to make the lifestyle choices that can help them build healthy lives,” said Jeffrey Ruby, Founder and CEO of Newtopia.

If you’ve been following the story, this builds upon their project with GNS to develop a predictive algorithm to identify people at risk for Metabolic Syndrome.  As you may or may not know, there are 5 first factors for Metabolic Syndrome (text from NIH):

The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. You can have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.

  • A high triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.

  • A low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.

  • High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

  • High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

So, what exactly are they doing now.  That was the focus of my discussion with Adam.

  1. They are running data through the GNS predictive model.
  2. They are inviting people to participate in the program.  (initially focusing on 500 Aetna employees for the pilot)
  3. The employees that choose to participate then get a 3 SNP (snip) test done focused on the genes that are associated with body fat, appetite, and eating behavior.  (Maybe they should get a few of us bloggers into the pilot – hint.)  This is done through Newtopia, and the program is GINA compliant since the genetic data is never received by Aetna or the employer.
  4. The genetic analysis puts the consumer into one of eight categories.
  5. Based on the category, the consumer is matched with a personal coach who is going to help them with a care plan, an exercise plan, and a nutrition plan.  The coaching also includes a lifestyle assessment to identify the best ways to engage them and is supported by mobile and web technology.
    newtopia
  6. The Newtopia coaches are then using the Pebble technology to track activity and upload that into a portal and into their system.

We then talked about several of the other activities that are important for this to be successful:

  • Use of Motivational Interviewing or other evidence-based approaches for engagement.  In this case, Newtopia is providing the coaching using a proprietary approach based on the genetic data.
  • Providing offline support.  In this case, Aetna has partnered with Duke to provide the Metabolic Health in Small Bytes program which he described as a virtual coaching program.

Metabolic Health in Small Bytes uses a virtual classroom technology, where participants can interact with each other and the instructor. All of the program instructors have completed a program outlined by lead program developer Ruth Wolever, PhD from Duke Diet and Fitness Center and Duke Integrative Medicine. Using mindfulness techniques from the program, participants learn practices they can use to combat the root causes of obesity. The program’s goal is to help participants better understand their emotional state, enhance their knowledge of how to improve exercise and nutrition, and access internal motivation to do so. (source)

We also talked about employer feedback and willingness to adopt solutions like this.  From my conversations, I think employers are hesitant to go down this path.  Metabolic Syndrome affects about 23.7% of the population.  That is a large group of consumers to engage, and pending final ROI analysis will likely scare some employers off.

Adam told me that they’ve talked with 30 of their large clients, consultants, and mid-market clients.  While we didn’t get into specifics, we talked about all the reasons they should do this:

  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 1.6x more expensive
  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 5x more likely to get diabetes
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism

This ties well with my argument that wellness programs aren’t just about ROI.

Obviously, one of the next steps will be figuring out how this integrates into their other existing programs to address the overall consumer experience so that it’s not just another cool (but disconnected) program.  And, of course, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program to get clients and consumers to participate.

Two quotes I’ll leave you with on why this is difficult (but yet exciting to try to solve):

“The harsh reality is that scientists know as much about curing obesity as they do about curing the common cold: not much. But at least they admit their limitations in treating the cold. Many doctors seem to think the cure for obesity exists, but obese patients just don’t comply. Doctors often have less respect for obese patients, believing if they would just diet and exercise they’d be slim and healthy.” (source)

Thirty percent of those in the “overweight” class believed they were actually normal size, while 70% of those classified as obese felt they were simply overweight. Among the heaviest group, the morbidly obese, almost 60% pegged themselves as obese, while another 39% considered themselves merely overweight. (source)

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Is Wellness Really Just About ROI?

Al Lewis and Tom Emerick posted a great article on the HBR blog about the Danger of Wellness Programs.  It reminds me a lot of what my old boss published after she left Healthways, but as the old expression goes – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I’ve talked about this before in my post on why CVS asking for their employees weight was a good thing, but let me elaborate more.  While the HBR article makes some great points about ROI, the reality is that companies don’t just jump into wellness for the ROI.  It’s about creating a better workforce.  What Al Lewis and his partner ignore are other realities like:

In general, only 12% of people are fully health literate.  Most people are unengaged with their healthcare and overwhelmed with work and life.  That’s why programs like biometrics and health risk assessments are important.  They try to create teaching moments for us to pay attention to our health and realize our risks.

#WHCC13 Interview: Content + Community + Competition = Keas

I had the opportunity to sit down this morning with Josh Stevens who is the CEO of Keas.

“Keas is the most engaging wellness program in the workplace. Keas promotes healthy behavior and teamwork with interactive media that delivers relevant, individualized content to hundreds of thousands of employees. Keas has a proven track record of supporting corporate HR in increasing retention, productivity, teamwork, collaboration, and competitiveness. By rewarding people for achieving simple exercise and nutrition goals, employee health is improved and overall healthcare costs are decreased.”

He is a passionate believer in using fun and social to drive change in healthcare with a focus initially on wellness and then moving upstream to other challenges like disease management.

As CEO of Keas, the market leader in corporate wellness, Stevens is responsible for leading the development and market adoption of the company’s breakthrough wellness platform and applications.

Stevens has over 20 years of experience in product, sales, marketing, and is a recognized leader in driving high-value product experiences that deliver customer delight and investor’s valuation growth.

Prior to Keas, Stevens was Vice President of e-commerce at YouSendIt, Senior Vice President of strategy and business development at TicketsNow, and General Manager of e-commerce at AOL. Prior to his GM role at AOL, Stevens held a variety of leadership positions in business development, product marketing, product management, and corporate strategy.

Some of you may have seen Keas over the years. They were founded by Adam Bosworth who was responsible for Google Health at one point. They’ve gone through a few evolutions, but it seems like they’ve hit on a working model leveraging several principles that we discussed:

  1. Being intellectually nimble
  2. Developing holistic and integrated solutions
  3. Using content, community, and competition to drive engagement
  4. Building social networks around health
  5. Integrating into the consumer’s experience to be seamless (e.g., single sign on)
  6. Recognizing that change is dependent upon corporate culture changing also
  7. BYOD (bring your own device) meaning that they can integrate with anyone with an open API
  8. Realizing that while some people (like me) might want to focus on data in a Quantified Self manner, we’re only 15% of the population

While Josh isn’t a healthcare native, that seems like a good thing. I’ve seen a lot of people try to come into healthcare from the outside. Most of them fail because they get overwhelmed by the regulation or frustrated by the challenges or stick too much to what they personally think should work. In the hour we spent together, I didn’t get that sense.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Keas and trying out the tools myself. One of the most fascinating points was that they get people to engage 15 times per month. I told him that that was a ridiculous number in healthcare. We went on to talk about his hiring a team from the gaming industry and that they were used to being tied to repeat visits not simply getting people to download the tool.

IMHO – if you could get 50% of people to engage twice a month with a tool (and sustain that engagement rate), you would be a hero.

As I’ve talked about in my posts about CVS and as I tweeted earlier today from the conference, companies need to engage the worker at the workplace to transform healthcare. Josh gets that key point.

“Today’s employees spend most of their daily lives at work and companies can have a huge impact on improving overall health by creating a culture of wellness at work. That culture starts with Keas’ fun, engaging platform, which helps employees become healthier, more productive and more engaged at work, and in life.” (press release)

Why CVS Caremark Asking For Your Weight Is Good For You

I continue to annoyed by all the fear-mongering in the industry around what CVS Caremark is “doing to their employees”.  What about focusing on how they are helping their employees to get better?  (If interested, you should read some of the information they have on their blog.)

Our “Plan for Health” combines an evolving, best-practice approach to health coverage with preventive care and wellness programs. Our colleagues will be more accountable for taking control of their health and associated costs. The first step is getting to know your numbers by getting a health screening and completing an online wellness review each year. If colleagues complete both by the May 1, 2013 deadline, they will avoid paying an additional $600 for the 2013-2014 plan year. (from the CVS Caremark blog)

I was hopeful to hear someone come out strongly and speak about it yesterday on CBS, but instead the CEO of Mercer just talked about “soft” programs that depend upon consumers being proactive around their health.  I would rather hear about the value of screenings and how it helps employees.  In talking with one friend of mine at a biometrics company, he told me that in one case almost 40% of the people that they identified with diabetes (or pre-diabetes) and hypertension (or pre-hypertension) didn’t know they had the disease (or were at high risk).  That to me is a valuable insight to the individual especially when coupled with a program to help them learn and manage their disease (or risk).

For example, companies for years have been using Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) to try to baseline employee health and use that to accomplish several things:

  1. Help the employee to understand their risks
  2. Identify people who should be in coaching programs to improve their health
  3. Learn about their population and how to improve their health benefits

Use of biometrics is the right evolution from the HRA.  People have tried HRAs for years with some success.  Companies pay as much as $600 for people to take this online survey that has no necessary link to reality.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to lab values.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to claims data.  Most HRAs don’t necessarily trigger enrollment in health programs.  They are supposed to activate the employee to be proactive which doesn’t work for many sick consumers especially those in the “pre-disease” phase.  (Here’s a good study that does show some increased activation.)

As I mentioned the other day, this use of biometrics and link between incentives and participation (and ultimately outcomes) is normal and will ultimately improve the link between the workplace and the employee around health.

Let’s take a broader look at insurance to help set some context:

  • For life insurance, you have to disclose certain data and depending on the policy level you have to do other things like get a physical and have blood work drawn.  That effects your costs and their underwriting.  
  • For car insurance, if you get in accidents, your costs go up.  In some case, you can have a monitoring device put on your car to lower your costs.  (like getting blood work done)
  • For home owners insurance, your costs go up if you live in a flood zone or a earthquake zone.  It also goes up if you have lots of claims.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we do determine a lot of our healthcare costs based on decisions we’ve made or had made for us since we were kids.  Some of these are conscious and some are subconscious.  And, obesity which is a large driver of many of these chronic conditions and has an impact on your likelihood of having cancer.  So, a company asking for your BMI and other data to help understand your risks for healthcare costs (of which they typically pick up 80%) doesn’t seem unusual.

Certainly, some are environmental such as those that live in “food deserts” like Detroit.  In other cases, workplace stress can affect our health.  We’re just starting to get smarter about “sitting disease” and it’s impact on our health.  Or, we may take medications that affect our blood pressure (for example).  It’s certainly important to understand these in context of your lab values and discuss a holistic strategy for improving your health with your physician and any care management resources which are provided to you (nurse, social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist).

This idea of learning more about employees in terms of biometrics, food, sleep, stress, social interaction, and many other data points is going to be more and more of a focus.  Companies want to learn how their employees do things.  They want to understand their health.  They want to improve their health.  They want to invest in their workforce to improve productivity, innovation, and ultimately job satisfaction.

While the glass half-empty people won’t see this and there are some companies that don’t always act this way, I generally believe that companies are trying to act in a way to increase their top line and most intelligent executives understand the correlation between health and wealth and the link between employee satisfaction and growth.

Ultimately, healthcare costs are estimated to put a $240,000 burden on us after we retire (even with Medicare) so if someone wants to help me become healthier and thereby save me money which improves my ability to retire and enjoy life I’m happy for them to do.

Less Than 1/3rd Of Health Insurers Very Confident In Their Big Data Value To Consumers

With all the discussions these days on Big Data and how to use information to create insights and wisdom, I was really shocked when I looked back at this PWC survey from 2011.  In it, less than 1/3rd of health insurers were very confident in their use of informatics to add value around case management, disease management, wellness, and consumer health tools.  WHAT???

This seems crazy to me.  In this interconnected world where everyone is talking about connected devices, mHealth, and ENGAGEMENT, health insurers are in the optimal position to leverage their data to provide insights, to provide transparency, to create algorithms, to be preventative in their actions, etc.  Maybe their technology platforms are too old?  Maybe they’re too silo’d?  I’m not sure.  But, I find this an interesting arbitrage opportunity.

With a system that integrates data from claims, labs, patient reported sources, HRAs, and biometrics, you can add value by creating a personalized patient experience that adapts with their needs.

Clinical Informations for Care Mgmt

Exercise Supercenter – Lifetime Fitness

Have you ever heard of Lifetime Fitness?  I didn’t until they started building this huge facility near my house outside St. Louis.  My first reaction was that somebody had the wrong business model.  A million square foot gym in this economy.  No way.

After an initial run in with an overly aggressive salesperson, my neighbors slowly signed up after their strong marketing push.  Given that I primarily run, it seemed hard to justify, but everyone who I talked to that had been to one of their facilities raves about them.  People compare them to country clubs (other than everyone in casual clothes) where there is great service and quality design and materials.

When you review their website, you get a much different view of the company.  Not your typical gym.  The facilities include a restaurant with healthy foods, a spa, and all of what you’d expect – classes, equipment, pools.  But, they also provide corporate wellness programs.

It finally opened, and I had a chance to go there Sunday.  Very nice.  Lots of staff.  Lots of equipment.  Lots of people (but not too many).  [I have no idea what the breakeven model is for a facility but it has to be 3,000+ members.]  And, a great example of old world social networking was the fact that there were tons of people who we knew and who knew each other there.  It was a destination to be at where hanging out at the pool was a social event by itself.

Since we know that peer pressure can influence wellness, it would be interesting to study the health dynamics in neighborhoods with a Lifetime Fitness versus other gyms and versus no facility.  Could it be the catalyst or tipping point?  It’s only a couple of days in, and I am on the west coast so we will see.

Wii Fit: Using Technology To Teach Wellness

I talked about the Wii a few months ago when we first got one. At the time, I didn’t know that Wii Fit was coming.

This past weekend we happily bought it, and I enjoyed it. It tells you your BMI. You can do yoga. You can do aerobic exercise (running, hula hoop, step aerobics). You can do agility exercises (downhill skiing, tight rope walking). I was a little skeptical, but I have been fascinated by the Wii so far.

And, I loved the fact that my 6 year old could get into it. She loved that once you put in your height, and it calculates your weight that it changes your Mii (avatar) to reflect your likely dimensions. She spent lots of time on the yoga moves that I probably never could have gotten her to do in a traditional forum.

This creative use of technology gives me a lot of hope for how we can teach our youth, drive rehab programs, and impact people.

Now what I am looking for is when will we see a competition to lose the most weight only using the Wii for training.

Teaching Kids About Health

Having kids makes you think about things differently. I was playing an online game with my kids this weekend when I started thinking about how it could be used to influence them. The game is called Webkinz. It is an interesting business model where kids buy stuffed animals which have a code. They go to the Webkinz website and use the code to register their “pet”. They then can work and play games to earn money. They have to feed and care for their pet to keep it happy. They pick the food.

My first take was how to use the tool to teach kids about good food (e.g., veggies and fruit) versus junk food. I didn’t study it intently, but I believe the “pets” are filled up better off the good food in the game. It also has little advertisements like the following:

webkinz-fruit.png

But, why not also use the game to teach the kids about exercise. If you don’t take the kid for a walk, it gains weight. Or, it already has a physician that you can visit, but why not improve that to give the kids preventative actions that they need to take for their pet. Since many people learn through action and experience, this could be a technique to start improving the next generation’s understanding of healthcare and wellness.


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