Case study: From research to web platform, a behavior change program that’s working

As healthcare pays ever-closer attention to programs and research that measure the relationship of patient engagement to outcomes and medical costs, one company has developed a program that delivers the golden egg of behavior change results.

Prevent is a web-based platform by Omada Health that aims to help patients with prediabetes avoid the full-blown disease. It’s a translation of results from the NIH-funded Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study, and encourages lifestyle tweaks like exercise and healthier eating. Participants are given a digital scale and join a small online community of some 12 people with of those of similar BMI’s, age and locales for what Cameron Sepah, PhD, Omada’s Medical Director, calls “the dynamic of group therapy in an online experience.” They also undergo an intensive 16-week online training program that includes live health coaching, and move to a maintenance program for the remainder of one year.

The company has published the results of its research study, showing an average weight loss of 5% over the course of a year, and a 0.4% reduction in A1c (a hemoglobin linked to blood sugar levels). Sepah credits the company’s success in great measure to Prevent’s design and user interface. Omada’s team includes former employers from Google, IDEO and Amazon, a fine pedigree.

Secondly, Sepah says, the DPP program – now disseminated nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – was well validated from the beginning with its broad and intensive research. Prevent is constructed to closely follow its best practices.

“The [DPP] program itself was very resource intensive and expensive. That’s the challenge in terms of translating to the real world,” he says, adding that to date there have been some 30 translations of it with varying success rates.

In contrast, Prevent has thus far been proven to be cost-effective and accessible to socioeconomically diverse patients. Omada sells it to insurers, employers, and health systems, to whom it guarantees a positive ROI. The company recently closed its Series B funding, raising $23 million to accompany the $4.5 million it raised last year.

Going forward, Omada may venture into management for other conditions in which behavior change modifications are key, Sepah says, such as smoking, insomnia, hypertension or back pain, with the next product rollout slated for 2015.

Which Comes First, A Knockout Biz Plan or the Next Big Thing?

The aptly named Health Tech Hatch (HTH) helps entrepreneurs, many of whom are quite young, fund and test their dream projects. The company offers crowdfunding support and concept testing and feedback. HTH has advised a number of campaigns on, one a group of Johns Hopkins undergraduates competing for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE with a smartphone enabled diagnostic device. Another project is developing a curriculum for a venture classes in health innovation, in pilot with a university in the Midwest, says Patricia Salber, HTH’s founder and CEO.

Web“To date, there haven’t been academic projects that have raised big funding or gone viral, like Scanadu or Lumo Back, so we’re working to help them design a curriculum that they can use to show students how to build a business plan,” she says, adding that all too often entrepreneurs will come late to the realization that even before funding they need to consider building communities, looking for donors and rolling out public relations. Colleges are also adding venture courses to keep those who would drop out and form a company a la Gates & Co. in schools, Salber says.

What are trends in healthcare innovation?

“We’re in the era of validation,” Salber says.

“People have designed all this stuff but we still have relatively little information as to whether it works. Other folks would say it’s all about integration. We’ve built all these silos, but now what we’re seeing is people trying to figure out how to build these into a platform. I just want to look at my steps on a Fitbit platform; I’d really like everything to be in one place,” she says.

“Plus, by and large most health apps aren’t being used. We need to figure out how to really engage people. I think that’s going to happen when physicians start to prescribe apps,” Salber says.

Catalyst is an ongoing series about health innovation, focusing on companies from the TEDMED Hive. For more information about The Hive 2014, click here.