Cigna, BodyMedia partner to study diabetes prevention

By Jonah Comstock
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BodyMedia Fit ArmbandOne thread MobiHealthNews has been following since 2010 is the changing role of the payer in digital health. The buzz at the mHealth Summit suggested that 2013 could be a big year for payers taking on more proactive, preventative measures to reduce their own costs and improve the health of their clients.

Health insurer and self-styled "global health services company" Cigna has announced a partnership with BodyMedia to use the latter company's popular armband tracker as a diabetes prevention and management tool. Cigna is launching a pilot program with four of its US employer health plan clients, serving 16,000 employees total.

Through the program, employees will be given a BodyMedia device to wear constantly, which will monitor their calories burned, physical activity, and other physiological data. That data will be transmitted to coaches who will work with the employees to modify their behavior and motivate them to healthy actions.

BodyMedia's CEO Christine Robins has long maintained that her product is for people dealing with serious health problems, and the company has a history of advancing through high-profile partnerships: 24-Hour Fitness and NBC's The Biggest Loser are two examples. But in partnering with Cigna, Robins is pushing the device into a new use case, focusing on diabetes specifically rather than weight gain or fitness more generally.

"Fitness trackers have proven their value in weight control, but this study illustrates their potential usefulness for other health purposes," Robins said in a statement. "If being able to see your food and exercise choices will change your behavior - and we believe it can, based on our experience with consumers who use our armbands to support their weight loss efforts - healthcare practitioners may have a whole new way to deal with a variety of lifestyle-related health conditions."

Cigna made headlines recently when they partnered with Audax Health, a company developing a health-focused, HIPAA-compliant social network. Audax is apparently developing an in-house version of its network for Cigna's clients. In the past, the company has partnered with behavior change app Daily Feats.

Between this deal with BodyMedia and the recent Audax partnership, Cigna is putting itself on the digital health map in a big way. The pilot will also produce RCT-quality data according to Cigna, so other payers will certainly be watching closely.