Startups, Artificial Intelligence

Lark Health shows impact of its diabetes prevention program on older patients

Among the 360 participants over the age of 50 in the study, the company was able to drive an average of 4.3 percent body weight loss, which works out to an average of 4.4 kgs.

Older patients are often considered a hard market to reach when it comes to adopting new technology to manage their health, but they are arguably one of the most important demographics to address when it comes to controlling healthcare costs.

New research from AI-based chronic disease management startup Lark Health is trying to buck the commonly held belief that seniors fail to engage with digital tools.

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The Mountain View-based company released initial results from a retrospective study on the ability of its Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) to effectively engage older adults.

Among the 360 participants over the age of 50 in the study, the company was able to drive an average of 4.3 percent body weight loss, which works out to an average of 4.4 kgs. The average age of the group was 58.

Diabetes has much higher prevalence in older adults, with more than a quarter of Americans over the age of 65 afflicted with the condition.

Lark positions its AI-based text messaging program – which provides guidance on nutrition, physical fitness, stress management and sleep habits – as a way to bridge the gap between the large swath of patients who could benefit from DPPs and the small number actually enrolled. The company has raised more than $35 million since its founding in 2011.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Outside of its diabetes prevention program, the company also helps patients manage diagnosed chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes. The company said more than 2 million people have used the Lark platform.

“The research is really exciting for me because it shows this demographic is perfectly capable of using text messaging, and anecdotally we’ve seen seniors actually being even more engaged with the platform than the younger population,” Lark CEO Julia Hu said.

She highlighted feedback the company has received about how the conversational approach of Lark has given some older adults a social outlet that can be directly tied to improving their health.

Earlier this year, the company’s diabetes prevention program received Full Recognition status from the CDC, which is the highest level of recognition from the agency.

Hu said the CDC decision has helped to unlock Lark’s entrance into Medicare Advantage and pointed to company’s research showing Lark’s effectiveness among an older population as another potential driver in the government payer market.

“There is a real problem right now because there are several studies that show Medicare reimbursements are barely covering the cost of care, but you’ve got this population that really needs help,” Hu said. “Our product allows for true scalability and access and because as an AI solution, we can pass along our tech savings to our partners.”

Traditional Medicare has been less receptive to coverage of digital therapeutics, but Hu is hopeful that creating a stronger clinical evidence base will lead to better coverage and reimbursement decisions from the program.

Ultimately, Hu said Lark’s goal is not to replace existing clinicians but broaden access to services in a way that allows them to practice at the top of their license.

“There’s millions of American chronic disease patients and there’s just not enough doctors and nurses and caretakers around to take care of them,” Hu said. “Our goal is to handle the day-to-day management and at critical triage points we elevate to the nurses so they get to treat the patients at times of real clinical need.”

Picture: PeopleImages, Getty Images