Leveraging connectivity to promote wide-scale diabetes prevention

By April 01, 2013
doctor holding a sign with "diabetes" written on it

Prevent is an online platform that provides prevention programmes to people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The startup that developed the platform aims to use information and communication technology to enable a patient-centred approach to preventive health care.


Diabetes affects 8.3% of the US population and 11.3% of adults aged twenty and over. Some 27% of those affected, i.e. 7 million people, are totally unaware that they have diabetes. Pre-diabetes, which is a state where glycaemic (sugar) levels are higher than normal but not elevated enough to warrant the person being diagnosed as a diabetic, affects 35% of adults aged twenty and over, and half of all US Americans aged 65 and over. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), close to one adult in three could have developed diabetes by the year 2050 if the current trend continues. In the last few years there have been several initiatives intended to find a solution to the problem by drawing on technological innovation. Back in 2011, the US arm of the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis had already launched the Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge, which brought together designers, data engineers and entrepreneurs with the aim of creating innovative solutions in this field. In Silicon Valley, a startup called Glooko has developed a mobile app that enables diabetics to track their own glucose levels. Omada Health, which emerged two years ago from Rock Health (one of the most noted e-health accelerators in the United States) is now also tackling this need, and has just raised $4.7 million to develop Prevent, a platform dedicated to preventing diabetes.

Making health prevention programmes available to all

In 2011, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a national study carried out by the CDC, highlighted the effectiveness of ‘lifestyle’-oriented programmes, which help pre-diabetic patients to make healthy lifestyle choices likely to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, these programmes have proved difficult to roll out on a large scale with a reasonable budget, and patients find it hard to follow them seriously and sustainably. So the idea behind Prevent, which Omada Health has created in collaboration with the CDC, is to let everyone have access to such programmes and make them more viable. “So far, all efforts to implement the DPP have been limited to classrooms, so we thought the best way was to get it online,” explained Sean Duffy, Omada Health’s co-founder and CEO. The programme incorporates a series of lessons based on curriculum standards developed by the CDC in order to help participants at all levels to attain their objectives. By working to stop diabetes before it starts, Prevent is also aiming to help reduce the healthcare costs incurred in treating the condition. And the programme seems to work: on average participants lose 6% of their body weight in only 16 weeks, improve their clinical testing results, and get on track towards better long term health.

Reduce the risk of diabetes long term

This is Omada Health’s first offering. Launching this type of platform has been their aim since the company was set up and emerged from the Rock Health e-health incubator in 2011. This first venture is designed to remedy some of the problems encountered in the past by traditional health prevention programmes. First and foremost, progress is tracked online, which makes it more consistent and easier to follow.  An online approach also means that everyone can access the Prevent site, wherever in the United States they happen to be, which in turn helps to overcome any lack of access due to geographical factors, as seen with some of the earlier programmes. Moreover, the site is designed to provide a social experience, which changes the way the people progressively working on their health see themselves. The platform enables them to dialogue, create relationships with their fellow-strivers and provide highly beneficial encouragement to each other.  It also provides digital tracking tools to help create a personalised programme; personal coaching sessions where they can express what they’re experiencing all through the process; and the benefits of peer-group support, both during and after the health prevention programme. 

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