/ Genomics / How Precision Health is Helping Aetna Employees Prevent Chronic Disease

How Precision Health is Helping Aetna Employees Prevent Chronic Disease

Corporate Wellness Magazine

With a workforce of more than 50,000 active employees, Aetna, like the bulk of its employer customers, is committed to well-being and prevention programs that will help its employees reduce their risks of developing costly, preventable chronic diseases. As part of this effort, the company seeks ways to help employees reduce their risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome, which, according to the 2009 DW Edington study on the economic impact of Metabolic Syndrome, can ultimately lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. An adult with Metabolic Syndrome has annual healthcare costs 1.6 times higher than the average healthy employee. Workplace presentism is also often affected by a Metabolic Syndrome diagnosis.

Metabolic Syndrome refers to a person having at least three of five out of range metabolic risk factors including: (1) waist circumference [for women >35 inches (89 cm); men >40 inches (102 cm)], (2) triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L), (3) low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels [women ≤50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L); men ≤40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L)], (4) high blood pressure [≥130/85 mm Hg (17.3/11.3 kPa)], or (5) an elevated fasting blood sugar level [more than 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L)].

Newtopia’s Hyper-personalized Approach

In 2013, an innovative new approach to Metabolic Syndrome prevention from the precision health company Newtopia caught the attention of the Aetna. Most disease prevention programs in the industry are built on a one-size-fits-all model — meaning all participants engage in the same curriculum in the same way. Newtopia, on the other hand, offers a hyper-personalized approach, that utilizes genetic testing, behavior science, and smart technology to build customized disease prevention experiences for at-risk employees.

Aetna was intrigued and set out to determine if a highly personalized program for individual employees vs. a one-size-fits-all model could have a meaningful impact on reducing the onset of metabolic syndrome and decreasing health care costs. The company launched a three-year randomized control trial with its employees to put the Newtopia program to the test.

At the start of the program, the 445 Aetna employees participating in the Newtopia pilot were invited to complete a personal assessment to assess personality, motivation, and readiness to change. Participants were also encouraged to take an optional genetic test – identifying one or several of three genes that may affect an individual’s ability to lose and gain weight. From there, behavior science was used to match employees with their coach who delivers highly customized behavioral change plans based on each employee’s unique behavioral traits, personal circumstances, motivation type and genetic results. The program also utilized smart mobile technology, gaming and curated social health communities to keep employees connected, motivated, accountable and on track in real time.

Industry-Leading Engagement, Health Benefits & Cost Saving

The results of the trial demonstrated that by focusing on at-risk individuals and engaging them in a highly personalized way, versus a standard one-size-fits-all curriculum, employers can achieve significant costs savings in the very first year, experience industry-leading engagement and risk reduction, and deliver an in-year return on investment.

  • 50% of those enrolled remained engaged for 12 months, a significant improvement over the industry average of 10%.
  • Participants who lost weight on the program lost on average 6% of their initial body weight, which is equivalent to 14lbs.
  • Average healthcare costs were reduced by $122 per participant per month vs. the control group, for a total of $1,464 per participant per year versus a randomized control group. These savings are equivalent to a 2X return on investment in just the first year of the program.

Aetna continued to track its trial participants for the second year on the Newtopia program, and determined participants remained highly engaged and continued to experience meaningful improvements in weight loss and health benefits.

From Pilot to Commercialized Program

Based on the success of its randomized control trial with Newtopia, Aetna now offers Newtopia to its employer customers as a practical solution to fight preventable chronic disease. Additionally, Aetna has made the Newtopia program available enterprise-wide to its at-risk employees and continued to witness how the program helps employees improve their health. For instance, Aetna employee Amy DePinto lost more than 20 pounds through the Newtopia program and passed her Metabolic screening test one year later.

“Information is power,” said DePinto. “Knowing that I don’t have the MC4R gene made me realize that I have to stop myself when eating. My personal coach’s approach was also beneficial. She was very open and gave me suggestions and ideas. Being accountable to her was effective.”

For Aetna employee Cheryl Lawson, the support of her coach kept her confident and focused and helped her lose 15 pounds. “My blood pressure has decreased, and I’ve cut my use of medications in half. I hope to be off all medications completely next year.”

Through this first-hand experience with precision health, Aetna believes that companies can benefit from thinking beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to disease prevention that dominates the industry. In many cases, a high-touch, hyper-personalized program like Newtopia can help companies break down wellness barriers by keeping employees more accountable, engaged and on a faster, more permanent path to disease prevention.

With a workforce of more than 50,000 active employees, Aetna, like the bulk of its employer customers, is committed to well-being and prevention programs that will help its employees reduce their risks of developing costly, preventable chronic diseases. As part of this effort, the company seeks ways to help employees reduce their risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome, which, according to the 2009 DW Edington study on the economic impact of Metabolic Syndrome, can ultimately lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. An adult with Metabolic Syndrome has annual healthcare costs 1.6 times higher than the average healthy employee. Workplace presentism is also often affected by a Metabolic Syndrome diagnosis.

Metabolic Syndrome refers to a person having at least three of five out of range metabolic risk factors including: (1) waist circumference [for women >35 inches (89 cm); men >40 inches (102 cm)], (2) triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L), (3) low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels [women ≤50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L); men ≤40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L)], (4) high blood pressure [≥130/85 mm Hg (17.3/11.3 kPa)], or (5) an elevated fasting blood sugar level [more than 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L)].

Newtopia’s Hyper-personalized Approach

In 2013, an innovative new approach to Metabolic Syndrome prevention from the precision health company Newtopia caught the attention of the Aetna. Most disease prevention programs in the industry are built on a one-size-fits-all model — meaning all participants engage in the same curriculum in the same way. Newtopia, on the other hand, offers a hyper-personalized approach, that utilizes genetic testing, behavior science, and smart technology to build customized disease prevention experiences for at-risk employees.

Aetna was intrigued and set out to determine if a highly personalized program for individual employees vs. a one-size-fits-all model could have a meaningful impact on reducing the onset of metabolic syndrome and decreasing health care costs. The company launched a three-year randomized control trial with its employees to put the Newtopia program to the test.

At the start of the program, the 445 Aetna employees participating in the Newtopia pilot were invited to complete a personal assessment to assess personality, motivation, and readiness to change. Participants were also invited to take an optional genetic test – identifying one or several of three genes that may affect an individual’s ability to lose and gain weight. From there, behavior science was used to match employees with their coach who delivers highly customized behavioral change plans based on each employee’s unique behavioral traits, personal circumstances, motivation type and genetic results. The program also utilized smart mobile technology, gaming and curated social health communities to keep employees connected, motivated, accountable and on track in real time.

Industry-Leading Engagement, Health Benefits & Cost Saving

The results of the trial demonstrated that by focusing on at-risk individuals and engaging them in a highly personalized way, versus a standard one-size-fits-all curriculum, employers can achieve significant costs savings in the very first year, experience industry-leading engagement and risk reduction, and deliver an in-year return on investment.

  • 50% of those enrolled remained engaged for 12 months, a significant improvement over the industry average of 10%.
  • Participants who lost weight on the program lost on average 6% of their initial body weight, which is equivalent to 14lbs.
  • Average healthcare costs were reduced by $122 per participant per month vs. the control group, for a total of $1,464 per participant per year versus a randomized control group. These savings are equivalent to a 2X return on investment in just the first year of the program.

Aetna continued to track its trial participants for the second year on the Newtopia program, and determined participants remained highly engaged and continued to experience meaningful improvements in weight loss and health benefits.

From Pilot to Commercialized Program

Based on the success of its randomized control trial with Newtopia, Aetna now offers Newtopia to its employer customers as a practical solution to fight preventable chronic disease. Additionally, Aetna has made the Newtopia program available enterprise-wide to its at-risk employees and continued to witness how the program helps employees improve their health. For instance, Aetna employee Amy DePinto lost more than 20 pounds through the Newtopia program and passed her Metabolic screening test one year later.

“Information is power,” said DePinto. “Knowing that I don’t have the MC4R gene made me realize that I have to stop myself when eating. My personal coach’s approach was also beneficial. She was very open and gave me suggestions and ideas. Being accountable to her was effective.”
For Aetna employee Cheryl Lawson, the support of her coach kept her confident and focused and helped her lose 15 pounds. “My blood pressure has decreased, and I’ve cut my use of medications in half. I hope to be off all medications completely next year.”
Through this first-hand experience with precision health, Aetna believes that companies can benefit from thinking beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to disease prevention that dominates the industry. In many cases, a high-touch, hyper-personalized program like Newtopia can help companies break down wellness barriers by keeping employees more accountable, engaged and on a faster, more permanent path to disease prevention.

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