OCTOBER 16-18, 2019



October 16-18, 2019 | Boston, MA

Can Health Behavior Change Tip the Scales?

John Sharp, Director, Thought Advisory, HIMSS

Doctors have been recommending weight loss, exercise and stress reduction for decades at annual physicals but without tools to recommend or systematic follow up. But in recent years, obesity, diabetes, and opioid abuse have become national epidemics as people struggle to survive a toxic food environment, chronic pain, easy access to addictive prescription drugs, and sedentary lifestyles. With a broader awareness of risks, there is more urgency for providing more than education for health risks.

Enter digital health companies focused on health behavior change. The most successful ones have done several things right:

  • Took a successful in-person model (the CDC Diabetes Prevention Program) and made it virtual
  • Hired behavior change experts
  • Personalized virtual health coaching
  • Addressed a specific problem/gap first
  • Developed an outcomes research program and published in peer-review journals
  • Gained early traction from payers and employers.

This mix of key ingredients has enabled these companies to scale and now serve tens of thousands of health consumers. Behavior change is hard, but with smart phones in our hands and well-designed apps backed by experienced health coaches, change is possible.

What the numbers say

  • 6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease, 4 in 10 have 2 or more
  • Leading Drivers of the Nation’s $3.3 Trillion in Annual Health Care Costs
  • 1.6 million are diagnosed with cancer
  • 30 million have diabetes and 1 in 4 don’t know that they have it
  • Heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases cause 1 in 3 deaths
  • 78 million adults have high blood pressure

Source: Center for Disease Control

What are the obstacles?

A major obstacle is awareness of the scope of the problem. Closely related is culture – attitudes which accept obesity, smoking and other habits that need changing as a new normal. Also, awareness that a solution that works (digital coaching, for instance) is readily available and for many at a low cost or free. The final obstacle is, of course, who will pay for it. While some payers have jumped on board this trend, broader adoption is inhibited by it not being more broadly available to consumers.

How do we get there?

The next challenge is to expand to other chronic conditions and those at risk for those conditions. Pulmonary disease, hypertension and heart disease are new targets. Perhaps others, such as, Chronic Kidney Disease will follow as we see the HHS Innovation Center partner with the American Society of Nephrology for new ideas. If health behavior change can be durable and at scale, the health of the country has the potential of shifting and the burden of chronic disease lessening.


Why is Behavior Change so Hard? Successes and Failures from the Field
The digital health industry has produced new opportunities to implement behavioral medicine interventions but the devil is in the details. This CHC19 session will feature leaders in the field of behavioral medicine who will share failures and successes in designing, adapting, and implementing behavior change programs.

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