Can digital health RPM achieve meaningful change with type 2 diabetics? New metastudy expresses doubt.

A metastudy from the Peterson Health Technology Institute (PHTI) has reservations about the efficacy of digital diabetes management tools. Over $50 billion has been invested in the sector between development, investments, mergers, and acquisitions. Generally, the claim around digital management tools for diabetes to aid self-management and prevent poor outcomes, particularly for those at high risk, has been that they can 1) deliver meaningful and lasting clinical benefits in reduction of HbA1c (glycemic control) and 2) reduce long-term costs of poor control, benefiting patients. In the US, diabetes affects 11% of the population and is an expensive chronic condition. It also disproportionately affects people of color and those with lower income, especially as they age.

The systematic literature review of 1,100-plus studies was augmented by interviews with physicians, patients, digital health experts, along with companies. They included 120 clinical references from DarioHealth, Omada, and Virta. The PHTI grouped digital tools into three types of solutions for Type 2 diabetes in adults. All used standard glucometers, not continuous glucose monitors/CGM as well as apps to provide real time feedback to a virtual or actual coach or care team:

  1. Remote patient monitoring (glucometer plus feedback): Glooko
  2. Behavior/Lifestyle modification (glycemic feedback plus coaching features): DarioHealth, Omada Health, Perry Health, Teladoc (Livongo), Verily (Onduo), and Vida
  3. Nutritional ketosis (dietary guidance that restricts carbohydrates and monitors the patient’s glycemic and ketone levels): Virta Health

The findings did not meet their expectations in demonstrating “clear, substantial, and durable progress toward glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes, resulting in a lower prevalence of uncontrolled type 2 diabetes across the population.”

  • They did not deliver clinically meaningful benefits compared to ‘usual care’. Only three out of 10 comparative HbA1C studies achieved a meaningful difference of 0.5 percentage points (Minimal Clinically Important Difference or MCID) in patients. Their range was 0.23 to 0.60 percentage points compared to usual care.  The nutritional ketosis program had greater benefits as long as patients maintained the rigorous requirements of the therapeutic regimen.
  • The average price impact of the solution exceeds the savings achieved from the clinical benefits. The PHTI analysis looked at commercial insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid over three years. Provider reimbursement and pricing exceed cost savings from avoided care.

So where is the worth? The PHTI study recommended that:

  • Payers use these solutions for the highest risk and diverse/underserved populations
  • Regularly analyzing outcomes and tie contracts to clinical performance
  • Focus on patients with higher starting HbA1c newly starting insulin
  • Payers could also recommend nutritional ketosis as the Virta program had greater benefits.
  • Solutions could also evolve to include GLP-1 drugs, CGMs, and nutritional ketosis.

PHTI study (free download of full report, four sections, and appendices). PHTI press release.

PHTI is also offering a free webinar on Thursday 28 March at 2pm US Eastern Time on assessing digital diabetes management tools–registration here.

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