New online program aims to curtail diabetes, cut healthcare costs

'We aimed at preconditions or early conditions, where it’s not too late to move the needle.'

Omada Health, a start-up company based in San Francisco, has launched its flagship online product, called Prevent, which is aimed at tackling diabetes, a disease that affects 43 percent of Americans and, according to the American Diabetes Association, cost America $245 billion last year.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reports that more than a third of Americans have prediabetes, a condition that if properly addressed early, can prevent the disease from advancing to type 2 diabetes.

That’s where Omada Health comes in. The company, begun in 2011, by a group technologists and entrepreneurs from Google, Stanford, Harvard and IDEO (a creative consultancy firm), decided they wanted to make a dent in the diabetes epidemic, says Sean Duffy, Omada’s CEO, who has an educational background in neuroscience and medicine.

"We noticed that the degree of product quality was lower in the healthcare world, and we said, 'Wow, the world can do a lot better,'" Duffy says. "We aimed at preconditions or early conditions, where it’s not too late to move the needle."

The company just recently secured $4.7 million in venture capital, led by U.S. Venture Partners (USVP) with participation from The Vertical Group, Founder Collective, NEA, TriplePoint Capital, Kapor Capital, and angel investors. This financing is to support the commercial rollout of Omada Health’s flagship product Prevent.

Duffy says Prevent is a pioneer program in that it is based on evidence-based techniques and a thorough study of medical literature. Prevent is based on a successful CDC diabetes prevention program, used worldwide, where participants attend classes in person. For the Prevent online program, participants are assigned to small groups, with a coach, and given lessons online, along with mailed materials. The program is designed to give the participants as much support as possible in losing weight and learning to change their behavior.

Of Omada’s product, he says, "It looks and feels like it was something built by Twitter. It has beautiful designs."

The product is available for purchase, and most likely currently most affordable to employers as a cost deterrent in their group health insurance coverage, but Duffy says he hopes the product may one day be covered by insurance.

Prevent’s debut comes as both the House and Senate proposed a new bill, the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act, earlier this month.

[See also: Joslin Diabetes Center, Phytel launch CME research project.]