Call Me When It’s Time to Eat

I wrote last week in this blog about the somewhat curious health plan innovation offered up by the Pittsburgh-based health plan Highmark. You may remember that Highmark announced that it was using pre-paid card technology to sell health care gift cards to be used for everything from Lasik surgery to making co-pays.

This week Humana announced an innovation that struck me as a little off the wall even though I had been aware of this venture for a couple of years now. Sensei Inc., a joint venture between Humana Inc. and Card Guard AG, introduced a new health and weight management program that uses cell phones as personal coaches. The program, called “Sensei for Weight Loss,” currently is available to Sprint and AT&T customers.

According to a story in the Louisville Business Journal, users go online to enter personal information such as desired weight, food preferences, meal times and exercise routines, and the program generates a customized nutrition and fitness plan. Throughout the day, the program delivers messages to the user’s cell phone, such as weekly shopping lists, meal recommendations and motivational tips. The program also records the user’s eating choices and fitness activities and tracks progress toward goals.

I personally am not sure that I want that close of a relationship with my cell phone, but for people who need and want this type of monitoring, Sensei for Weight Loss could have an impact on health care costs.

Consider that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report outlining projections for long-term health care spending and reviewing the factors that contribute to growth in spending was also released last week. The report projects that, in the absence of changes in federal law, total spending on health care would rise from 16 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 to 25 percent in 2025, 37 percent in 2050, and 49 percent in 2082.

The report discussed two potential approaches to reducing health care spending: (1) generating more information about the relative effectiveness of medical treatments; and (2) changing the incentives for providers and consumers in the supply and demand of health care. CBO noted that some analysts have advocated significant expansions of disease management and care coordination as mechanisms for reducing costs.

With those sobering facts in mind, maybe a cell phone that monitors and promotes healthy behaviors is not so far fetched. In deed, it might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

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