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Startup Report

Omada Health Brings Its Diabetes Prevention Program To Low-Income Populations

One in three people is at risk for diabetes, according to the CDC.

[Photo: Flickr User Dennis Skley]

Terrifying statistic of the day: About one in three Americans has "prediabetes," meaning their blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

But the good news is that people with prediabetes have an opportunity to get healthy and avoid the onset of the disease altogether. And San Francisco-based startup Omada Health has developed an online program called Prevent—to do just that.

Omada has historically focused its efforts on middle and high-income people who are at risk for diabetes. The company partners with health insurers and large employers, like Lowe's and Costco, who are willing to pay for the program. But those who rely on Medicaid or are uninsured haven't traditionally been able to access Omada's program.

Today, the company announced that it is targeting underserved populations for the first time. Studies have shown that low-income communities have extremely high rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases, including diabetes. The program will still be available for free to patients; Omada raised money to subsidize the program from various hospital foundations and other grants.

Omada's director of Medicaid and safety net development Eliza Gibson says she interviewed dozens of Medicaid patients about their needs before tweaking the program. The team is testing a Spanish-language option, and a web-based version of the app is available for people who don't have access to a smartphone to run its apps. The health coaches can also recommend food options and recipes to people with limited access to fresh produce.

"After compiling input from Medicaid patients, we wanted to be sensitive to things like language barriers and food access," says Gibson.

How The Program Works

The first step for patients is to fill out short online form. If they qualify for Prevent, they receive a start date and a package in the mail, which includes a connected scale, and an activity tracker.

Patients are subsequently connected to a virtual health coach, who spends 16 weeks helping them develop healthy habits. The patients can stop by their local health clinic every few weeks to track changes, but they are not required to go.

The company is hoping that it can show long-term improvements in health outcomes in the coming years. Omada has already released research to show that web-based diabetes prevention programs can improve people's health outcomes in the long term. But to date, it has not studied low-income communities specifically.

As part of the launch, Omada is initiating a clinical trial of 300 patients based on the West Coast to track changes in their health.

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