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UnitedHealth Gives MA Members an mHealth Link to Diabetes Care

The insurer is giving select Medicare Advantage members with type 2 diabetes a Dexcom mobile glucose management system and a fitness wearable. The mHealth pilot is designed to help members manage their chronic condition.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- UnitedHealth Group is launching an mHealth program to help its Medicaid Advantage members with type 2 diabetes.

The insurer, which boast some 4.3 million seniors in its MA plans, is giving an undisclosed number of members the Dexcom Mobile Continuous Glucose Monitoring System, which consists of a wearable blood glucose sensor and an mHealth app, to monitor their blood glucose levels.

Those involved in the pilot program will also get a wearable activity tracker and access to personalized diabetes coaching to understand how diet and exercise affect their health. The coaching component will be driven by the patient’s claims data.

"Continuous glucose monitoring can be a game changer for people enrolled in our Medicare Advantage plans, as the data can be translated into personalized information that can be acted upon in real time,” Brian Thompson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare & Retirement business, said in a press release.

Diabetes affects some 30 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the US population, according to the American Diabetes Association, while another 7.2 million have it but haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor. In addition, roughly 84 million people age 18 and older have symptoms that indicate a trend toward diabetes.

The pilot program is designed to encourage members with diabetes to better manage their health, through a combination of access to real-time data and information based on that data. mHealth advocates say that type of engagement can lead to improved health outcomes and, in the long run, reduced healthcare expenditures.

Healthcare providers have long been intrigued by the combination of mHealth sensors and activity trackers, particularly in programs for patients with diabetes. Experts say a digital health platform that marries daily blood glucose readings with exercise, diet, sleep and other data points can help patients and their caregivers create better care management programs.

Last October, Alaska’s largest primary care group launched a program to prescribe the Livongo for Diabetes mHealth platform to its patients with diabetes. The program is being supported by Premera, the state’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about care gaps, and we know there’s a big problem with diabetes in Alaska,” says Jennifer Dahline, Premera’s director of provider network management. “There’s not a lot of tools out there that are available for our members, so when we see a program like this, we’re telling providers to do it and we’ll pay for it.”

Dexcom – one of the largest companies in the diabetes market – also sees that connection. Last September, the company announced a collaboration with Fitbit to market products that combine fitness and diabetes management. The first product in the partnership was the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch, which can link to Dexcom CGM systems.

Fitbit, meanwhile, has been exploring the link between fitness and care management for several years and through programs with other mHealth vendors like Medtronic and healthcare providers.

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