Integrating Digital Health Into The Safety Net

Having spent the bulk of my career as a clinical social worker in nonprofit and public health settings, I was accustomed to the populations I served being the last to benefit from healthcare technology -- if they benefitted at all. So when my first few weeks at Omada involved a lot of my colleagues asking “what is the safety net in healthcare?” I wasn’t too surprised.

What was exciting, however, was joining a health technology company committed to not only educating employees about how the safety net provides necessary care to those most in need - low-income, Medicaid, and uninsured populations, but also to designing patient-informed solutions for that exact population.

Over three years ago, Omada committed ourselves to developing a low-literacy, bilingual version of our program with a culturally sensitive curriculum, low-budget recipe suggestions, and health coaches specially trained and experienced in working with safety net populations. Then, as we’ve done with our program since the early days, we ran a peer-reviewed study to test the adapted program’s feasibility. The goal of that study was to better inform our design of the program by hearing directly from the people who would be using it. Once that was established, we sought out opportunities to deliver our program to underserved populations.

In 2016, we began working with community health clinics and public health programs in California, Minnesota, and Nebraska, and launched a clinical trial to demonstrate just how effective our adapted program could be. That summer, our efforts adapting and implementing our program for underserved participants were featured on STAT News and CNN Health. Results from the trial will be released later this year. When the results from our study are released, we feel confident we’ll answer the headline question on STAT -- “Can a digital health startup prevent diabetes in Medicaid patients?” -- definitively.

Blog_Icons_700x300Today, we’ve had more than 1,000 safety net participants across seven states enroll in our program, with more than 500 of them more than six months into the intervention. We now know what we suspected -- low-income, underserved populations have both the access to and the appetite for a well-delivered digital health intervention outside the provider’s office. The barriers that keep many from enrolling in, or succeeding at, a traditional, in-person intensive behavioral counseling program -- inflexibility of schedule, distance to travel -- are even more acute for those working hourly shifts, or with less access to child care and transportation. As one of our safety net coaches recently said: “I’m always inspired by our safety net participants’ drive to make changes no matter what is standing in their way. Many of them are the most resilient people we have in our groups.”

Blog_Quote1_700x300 (2)Omada’s safety net partners now include more clinics, government programs, and Medicaid Managed Care Organizations across the country. Many state Medicaid programs -- like MediCal in California -- are incorporating diabetes prevention into the benefit design, and making sure to include tech-enabled solutions for the reasons outlined above. Here, in our home state, Omada is proud to be working with a statewide coalition to make sure the DPP MediCal policies incorporate digital providers.

Walking into Omada’s headquarters, it’s impossible to miss our company mission painted on the wall: We inspire and enable people everywhere to live free of chronic disease.

Too often for companies, “people everywhere” often excludes the people who need that help, or that innovation, the most. I love getting to tell the world how we deliver on our mission and are working, step-by-step, to integrate digital health into safety net healthcare.