Using Technology and Design to Tackle Chronic Disease
Sean Duffy admits he’s been a health geek since he was a teenager. His obsession drew him to study neuroscience at Columbia University and it continued to pull at him even after he went to work at Google. In 2009, he decided to pursue a joint MD/MBA degree at Harvard. Between his first and second year, he served as health wellness domain specialist at the design firm IDEO. He realized during that summer the healthcare technology world was missing a vital element: design.
Sean decided to change that. During his internship at IDEO, Sean’s assignment was to identify an intervention with strong clinical backing, and worked in a face-to-face setting. The NIH’s Diabetes Prevention Program Study intervention was chosen to translate, enhance and move into the digital space. All of which led Sean to found Omada Health, a pioneer in the field of digital therapeutics that operates at the intersection of science, technology and design. He set out on a mission to design highly engaging, effective ways to inspire lasting behavior change in those at risk of chronic disease.
Omada Health offers an innovative health program for patients at high risk of chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes. Omada’s flagship program combines a high-touch, interactive curriculum; connected tools like a cellular scale linked to a participant’s profile; integrates wearables and sensors; and involves personal, human coaches to help participants reach their health goals.
Digital health has improved greatly in the past few years and Omada is at the forefront. The start up is now the largest Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognized provider of the National Diabetes Prevention Program. It is steadily gaining traction with patients, inspiring changes in their habits and, ultimately, keeping many of them from developing chronic diseases in the first place. This is significant, considering that a large portion of the growing cost of U.S. healthcare is caring for patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. On the provider side, Omada’s innovative approach is encouraging employers and therapists finally to fully embrace behavior modification as a successful method of care.
We recently caught up with Sean to discuss the future of the digital health space as well as what lessons he has learned over the past several years as an entrepreneur.
Give us your prognosis for digital health in 2017.
We see this as the year that digital health as an industry is forced to mature. Five years ago, we started Omada and people were waiting to see if it would be a fad or whether there would be real benefits. We’re proving there are real benefits – through peer-reviewed studies, and real-world results in clinical settings. Employers, health plans, and health systems are looking for evidence-based, targeted, and validated tools to address populations that are driving healthcare spending. Omada is providing that tool – and the fact that we charge clients on delivering outcomes means our incentives are aligned with our participants, and our partners.
What are the real benefits or outcomes for Omada’s programs thus far?
We’ve enrolled more than 90,000 participants, we have more than 13 million weigh-ins recorded, and more than 11.5 million meals tracked. Overall, we’ve had more than 1 billion total interactions with the program.
What have you learned about the healthcare industry?
It’s important to become obsessive about understanding every facet of the industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that may embarrass you. And understand dual worlds—the world of the patient and the provider. As more folks bridge that gap, the products and services will get better.
Where would you place digital health now, in comparison to the evolution of healthcare through history?
I like to think of Omada’s new system of digital tracking, measurement and how it works with coaching as akin to surgery before there was anesthesia. We’re at the beginning of this new era and there’s a lot of education and science ahead, just as there was when surgeons started using anesthesia.