UnitedHealthcare taps wearables, individualized coaching to enhance diabetes management

Taking a photo with a smartphone
Using data from a wearable sensor, UnitedHealthcare members will be paired with a health coach for Type 2 diabetes management. (Image: lzf/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

UnitedHealthcare has launched a new initiative aimed at using wearable technology and personalized support to help Medicare Advantage members manage Type 2 diabetes.

The new initiative, announced Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas, taps into a health navigator program unveiled by the insurer in November called Navigate4Me. That program uses a “virtual nerve center” to collect data from various sources which can be leveraged by navigators to assist members managing chronic diseases.

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Building on that effort, the largest for-profit insurer is partnering with Dexcom, a San Diego company that specializes in wearable glucose monitoring technology that continuously sends data to a smartphone. Members are paired with a coach who can help them sift through the data generated by the sensor worn on their abdomen to manage glucose levels and adjust medication when necessary.

Participants are also provided with an activity tracker as an additional source of data to understand how behavioral changes impact glucose levels.

“With more than 27 million people nationwide living with Type 2 diabetes, there is urgent need to address this epidemic in new ways,” said Brian Thompson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement said in the announcement. “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.”

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Last year, UnitedHealthcare added several new wearables to its wellness program for employer-sponsored plans, including devices from Samsung and Garmin. 

Diabetes management has emerged as a hot-button issue for insurers and health IT startups given the high costs associated with the chronic disease. One company called Virta aims to reverse Type 2 diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. Meanwhile, Omada Health has partnered with health systems like Intermountain, providing digital tools to help providers intervene on patients with prediabetes.