Tech and a personal touch can reduce chronic disease
I was excited to connect recently with Brenda Schmidt, the founder and CEO of Solera Health, a company that’s using technology that helps make personal and community connections to support people in preventing chronic disease. About 86 cents of every health care dollar is spent treating chronic illnesses, many of which are preventable through behavior and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Yet it’s easy to get slowed down or side-tracked on the path to better health.
How can we help people get on the right track? I followed up with Brenda and asked a few questions:
JH: Solera is a network that uses data to connect people to community organizations and other local resources for programs to help them prevent chronic illnesses — for example, helping those with pre-diabetes to lose weight and learn healthier eating habits. This is an unusual marriage. What was the spark?
BS: We know that what happens between doctor visits is more important than what happens at the doctors’ visit. Doctors advise patients about the importance of making changes for better health, but they have difficulty connecting their patients with community resources that can help.
I felt there were tremendous opportunities for hyper-local community organizations like churches, community centers, pharmacies, YMCAs and other organizations who have earned peoples’ trust to provide that sustained support right in their neighborhood. Our model allows us to reach a much greater percentage of people who need help by providing culturally competent, language specific programs and services through trusted resources where people play, pray, live, work and shop.
JH: How do you get someone from the doctor’s office to a local community resource that can help?
BS: We act like Match.com.
A health insurer — for example, one of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies with which we partner — sends us member information and Solera reaches out on behalf of the health insurance company. If the member’s coverage provides these services as a covered benefit, we ask questions that help lead to the right match. Where would you like to start? Do you want a coach or no coach? Do you want individual support or group support? Do you need a flexible schedule? How would you like to use technology? We use their responses to match them with the resource that’s most likely to help. When we say ‘we found your best match,’ that person will likely join, stay on the program and successfully change their behavior because we’ve just served them up exactly the solution that best meets their needs and preferences.
JH: So this isn’t an app or an online tool?
BS: When you actually ask people what type of environment or program they want, about 40 percent of them will choose a community location and resource. If you are only offering a digital app to address chronic disease, you are missing 40 percent of the solution. Through our national network, Solera can also switch people among programs as their needs change.
JH: What kind of results are you seeing?
BS: The goal of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) is for pre-diabetic patients to lose a minimum of five percent of body weight through lifestyle changes. Evidence shows this could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent — and as much as 70 percent for those over 60. Solera has matched more than 40,000 people to diabetes prevention programs in 2018, and almost 35 percent of those that enroll will lose at least 5 percent of their body weight. For every seven people who participate in the National DPP, a case of diabetes is prevented. This rate of effectiveness is similar to the flu shot.
JH: So can this “healthy match” approach be applied to other conditions?
BS: Absolutely. For example, we know that diabetes and hypertension can be linked, and food insecurity is linked to both of them. We’ve recently announced partnerships with Feeding America and the California Food is Medicine Coalition (CalFIMC) to strengthen and accelerate the ability for health insurers to address food insecurity. Our partnership with the CalFIMC will provide Medi-Cal members discharged from the hospital with congestive heart failure or diabetes with 12 weeks of medically-tailored meals and nutrition counseling, with the goal of improving outcomes for Medicaid patients with complex chronic conditions. The model is based on a Philadelphia pilot program in which Medicaid patients received three medically-tailored meals each day for six months. That pilot showed that the health care costs for the meal recipients were reduced, on average, by $12,000 less than the control group.
Learn more about how chronic disease drives health care spending.