Treating Diabetes with the Help of an App

Treating Diabetes with the Help of an App

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School students want to incentivize patients with cash and technology

A group of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School students and a Rutgers computer science major have the backing to carry out a health care program that would pay patients to better monitor their Type 2 diabetes with the help of a smartphone app.   

Copernicus Health
Photo: Courtesy of Copernicus Health
The six-member team has received $50,000 from The Nicholson Foundation – whose mission it is to improve the quality and affordability of health care for New Jersey’s underserved communities – to implement a plan that would financially incentivize patients to keep their diabetes under control.

“Hospitals and physicians have been receiving financial incentives for years to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital,” said Thomas Nahass, one of the medical students on the team that won the competition. “We thought that patients who take control of their health should also have the opportunity to get financial rewards.”

Nahass and fellow medical school students Josh David, Brian Friel, Jonathan Haskel and Sam Schild as well as computer science undergraduate student Jeet Patel, were among more than 50 students and faculty from Rutgers who participated in the Nicholson Foundation & Rutgers Healthcare Delivery Challenge.  The charge was to submit service delivery or technology innovations that can improve quality of care while containing health care costs.

The medical students created Copernicus Health, named after 16th Century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Just as Copernicus made a paradigm shift putting the sun at the center of the universe, they say switching the focus and putting the patient back at the center of his or her health care is crucial to improve outcomes and control costs.

“We want to educate people and change the mindset of this disease,” said Nahass. “We really believe that education and encouragement can change behavior.”

Patients enrolled in the pilot-program will receive points for downloading the smartphone app, educating themselves about the disease, exercising, eating healthy, regulating medications, making healthy choices and going to the doctor where their laboratory results will be evaluated. When patients earn a certain number of points, they will be eligible for gift cash cards or discounts that can be used at health businesses like fitness centers or farmers’ markets.

An estimated 29 million people in the United States have diabetes which costs $245 billion annually to treat, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Alfred Tallia, chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Executive Director of RWJ Partners, the integrated delivery system of Rutgers and the Robert Wood Johnson Health System, will be working with the students this fall to help identify patients who could benefit from participating in the pilot program.

“Incentivizing patients is really the holy grail of the health care system,” Tallia said. “I think having medical students who understand how the health care system is changing and getting patients involved in decisions that will have a positive effect on their health is what will make a difference in the long term.”

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