Millions of people in the U.S. live with Type 2 diabetes. Physical activity and healthy eating can help control this chronic condition, but the motivation to make lifestyle changes must be there. Fitness bands, smart watches, and other devices can help with this by empowering patients to keep track of exercise and other important health indicators. Many people say that allowing a wearable device to monitor and remind them of their steps, heartbeat or other health data is an incentive to take better care of themselves. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can also help they monitor their glucose levels more accurately. United Healthcare is launching a program to give patients with Type 2 diabetes these tools to help improve their management of the chronic disease.
The pilot program includes participation by Fitbit and DexCom, Inc., a company that provides wearable CGM devices for diabetes management. The program will be made available to Medicare Advantage patients with diabetes, who will receive a Dexcom CGM and a Fitbit fitness tracker. Patients with Type 2 diabetes must test their blood periodically each day to check glucose levels, which typically involves pricking the finger and drawing blood, then testing it with a blood glucose meter. The Dexcom skin sensor is used instead of testing with a drop of blood. The sensor data is updated every five minutes, and information is transmitted to a smartphone. This continuous monitoring gives the user a better sense of how their diet is affecting their blood sugar. Participants will also receive personalized coaching to help educate them about exercise. Healthier diabetic patients rely less on prescription medicine to control their diabetes, which can help trim healthcare costs. As CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement Brian Thompson pointed out, “Continuous glucose monitoring can be a game changer for people enrolled in our Medicare Advantage plans, as the data can be translated into personalized information that can be acted upon in real time.”
This is not United Healthcare’s first program that relies on wearable health tech devices. The company’s Motion program is an employer-sponsored program which gives employees financial incentives for daily walking. Activity data is collected using a selection of different fitness bands. The fitness band is rapidly morphing into a source of healthcare data, and we can expect further transitions from traditional exercise to broader wellness applications.