Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Unveils Digital Health Tools

APRIL 19, 2018
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Massachusetts recently introduced its Emerging Solutions platform to help curate and manage the market in terms of identifying leading solutions to integrate into its customer base to help control employee health outcomes.1
 
In a sense, BCBS is picking those leaders of digital health solution companies that are targeting specific disease states, such as chronic disease management platforms for diabetes, in order to help offer novel means of addressing long-term management of traditional health services. Some of the new solutions mentioned in the insurer's news release are:
  • Livongo.This chronic disease management company targets diabetes. The company supplies patients with self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) devices, which when data are collected is acted upon with company diabetes coaches and allows data sharing to keep those relevant in the loop. Patients also have access to a live community with which to be involved. So far, data collected and published using Livongo have shown reduced A1C and blood glucose levels that have led to further support by organizations, as those have tied into a reduction in overall costs.
  • Omada.3 This diabetes prevention program takes a holistic approach to management. Members of Omada receive a wireless scale in the mail, a health coach who gives feedback, and an online community of similar members. Users are encouraged to track habits, such as diet and exercise, to get data that will help them adopt new habits. The coach then helps patients with problem areas. So, in essence, Omada is an electronic platform to provide users with a community to inspire them. Data collected then triggers electronic nudges, such as educational videos, and a habit tracker to show patients what they are doing well and what areas need improvement. The human intervention is the coach who steps in with areas that are not improving. Omada helps automate a lot of the issues in getting education and motivation to patients with diabetes and who are at risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Ovia Health.4 This company offers applications that help families with conception, pregnancy, returning to work, and parenting. Data are tracked based on user input to help provide more personal recommendations. For new parents, this could be a useful resource.
 
"We've heard from many of our employer customers that they are looking for new ways to help their employees with specific challenges including diabetes, pre-diabetes, and maternity ... Emerging Solutions can address these needs ... We have a unique opportunity to continuously see the newest technological advancements in health and select those that will best benefit our members," Debbie Williams, senior vice president of sales and account service, said in a statement.
 
So, why is this a big deal? Many digital health companies have been struggling to make it big. Some companies that sell products, for instance, are trying to get patients to buy their products. But with some of these devices costing several hundred dollars, it really limits the base of consumers that could have access. There have been many criticisms of the digital-health space by those who point out that the whole concept is predicated on a higher socioeconomic market that can actually afford this but may also already have resources, such as health care services, that puts them in a healthy population already. Thus, those who perhaps could benefit most may not be able to afford it. So, what is the answer? These companies' end goal is to be involved with an insurance or pharmaceutical company that would cover the costs of the products and get them to a broader patient base. The same goes for companies that sell a service, such as Linvongo and Omada, where their service is targeted toward patients with chronic conditions, but the catch is that the service requires a fee or monthly service commitment that may dissuade users from enrolling. With an insurance company covering that cost, they can then recruit more patients.
 
What BCBS is doing, in the grand scheme of things, is paving the way for the next generation of success and for the digital health space. This is what companies have been clamoring for, and having BCBS up the ante and do this may help encourage others.

BCPC does plan to add and change over time, as other companies demonstrate what their products can do.
 
But this is key: There will be more pressure to demonstrate the impact of the service. This means clinical data validation and patient utilization. It could be argued that as insurance companies and others enter the digital-health arena, we will exit the "Wild West" period of companies championing products and services that have no evidence. Instead, companies will champion that they are being used by large companies to get into the patient space. Those that seek to stand alone will have a tough time.
 
Meanwhile, pharmacists must consider their role in all this. There are a number of digital-health startups that are trying to disrupt the pharmacy sector and have the pharmacy as the focal point of their services. Taking that into consideration, we could start to see such products and services being sold or delivered more frequently in the community health pharmacy environment or integrated with medication use. Take diabetes management, for instance, where many of these services are combining data from SMBG measurements and medication dosing. It may turn into something that pharmacists are called upon to understand as patients look to tie all their data together for their care.
 
References

1. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts launches portfolio of digital health solutions [news release]. Boston, MA: April 2, 2018. prnewswire.com/news-releases/blue-cross-blue-shield-of-massachusetts-launches-portfolio-of-digital-health-solutions-300622601.html. Accessed April 19, 2018.
2. Livongo. livongo.com. Accessed April 19, 2018.
3. Omada. omadahealth.com/. Accessed April 19, 2018.
4. Ovia Health. oviahealth.com/. Accessed April 19, 2018.


Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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