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Perspective

How personalized health care can prevent disease

| Jul 02 2015
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President Obama recently announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, a $215 million investment aimed at enhancing the way clinicians prevent and treat disease. Precision medicine helps health care professionals select which treatments will work best for patients based on their individual genes, environments and lifestyles. While the Precision Medicine Initiative is new, the promise of personalized health care is already well recognized, especially when it comes to disease prevention. Many companies are currently incorporating personalized health prevention strategies into their corporate health and wellness programs, in an effort to prevent health issues from ever happening in the first place.

A Personalized Approach to Metabolic Syndrome

Aetna’s Innovation Labs team has done a significant amount of work with “big data” to try to predict the risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of health conditions known to increase a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Building on that work, Aetna Innovation Labs conducted a pilot program with Newtopia, a precision health company that uses genetic testing and behavioral science to build highly personalized disease prevention plans.

This pilot program focused on Aetna’s own employees. Employees who volunteered to participate in the program went through targeted genetic testing, as well as a personality and lifestyle assessment.

Information from these tests was used to create a personalized wellness program that included live, online coaching for nutrition, exercise and behavior management. Participants were able to engage in their personalized program through multiple channels, including a mobile lifestyle tracking system; social health networking; gaming; and wearable devices.

The results were dramatic – participants lost weight, reduced their waist sizes and had high levels of engagement in the program. Based on this success, Aetna is now offering the Newtopia program to its largest customers and their employees.

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Evidence-based, data-driven personalized health engagement can motivate at-risk individuals to make the right lifestyle choices. Improving their health at an earlier stage can help them avoid developing a serious chronic disease down the road.

These types of prevention-focused programs also can help reduce overall health care costs. Benjamin Franklin famously noted that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With annual health care spending in the U.S. reaching $3.8 trillion in 2014, developing preventive care approaches that truly work can be worth much more than that.

Editor’s note: The information in this story is based on a pilot program. It is not currently available to all Aetna members. However, it may be expanded to more individuals in the future.

Aetna Innovation Labs

Aetna Innovation Labs is a source for unique ideas and programs that provide market-leading capabilities to improve health care quality and reduce costs for our customers and members. Through this organization, Aetna can test specific initiatives such as those related to disease prediction and intervention; rapidly determine success rates and impact across populations of members; and quickly expand programs that show promise.

Read more about this topic on Associated Press and mHealthNews.com.