Highmark Partners with Navigenics for a New Generation of Personalized Wellness Powered by Genetic Knowledge

April 14, 2011 | Foster City, Calif., and Pittsburgh, Pa. — A new generation of personalized wellness powered by genetic knowledge will be offered to Highmark members and individuals through a partnership between Highmark and Navigenics, the two companies announced today. The first partnership of its kind in the nation between Highmark, one of the country’s largest Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and Navigenics, a pioneer in the application of genetic knowledge to improve individual health, aims to apply an integrated approach to health and wellness that is personalized for individuals based upon their genetic risks.

“If we can help our members understand their specific, individual genetic risk factors together with personal health factors such as family history and lifestyle, then we can help them take the right steps to stay healthy and well,” said Steven Nelson, senior vice president of health services strategy, product and marketing at Highmark. “Our hope is that individuals use this program as a preventive, proactive health planning tool to understand their risks and then change their lifestyle or take the necessary medical steps with their doctor to prevent long-term disease.”

Better health lies in delaying or preventing conditions before they develop. The Navigenics program identifies the genetic risk factors of an individual — through DNA analysis using a saliva sample — for health conditions such as cancers, cardiac diseases and Type 2 diabetes. The service also includes a panel on pharmaceutical responses, which reviews 12 medications for potential side effects or dosing considerations. Examples include Plavix, Warfarin and statin medications.

Navigenics selects only health conditions where genetic insight can guide an individual to an informed plan of action. Results are coupled with access to a board-certified genetic counselor, the ability to coordinate with personal physicians and the tools and resources to understand steps to address the identified health risks in conjunction with an individual’s overall health profile.

Highmark will offer the personalized wellness program through its group customer relationships in order for employers to provide a personalized option of health and wellness to their employees.

“The Navigenics personalized approach is particularly meaningful to employers who strive to infuse a ‘culture of health’ across their employee population,” said Vance Vanier, M.D., president and CEO of Navigenics. “Our goal is to heighten the impact of employer-sponsored wellness and prevention programs by giving individuals unprecedented access to knowledge about their unique health risks. We know that this information can be a catalyst for healthier decisions leading to higher quality, longer lives that are free of preventable disease.”

One Highmark employer group, Pittsburgh Technical Institute, has already become a participant in the new program.

“We see this as an exciting opportunity to improve health engagement,” said Nancy Sheppard, director of human resources at the educational institution. “Our organization has a long history of supporting our employees with innovative wellness programs, and we believe that through the introduction of genetic information and a session with a genetic counselor, our employees will not only have the option to gain greater insight into their health, but will be empowered to be more engaged in prevention.”

To help support testing participants who are also Highmark members, Navigenics genetic counselors may refer participants to Highmark-specific resources such as health coaching or online lifestyle improvement programs.

“Highmark offers our members a variety of programs to help them better manage their health,” said Nelson. “From health coaches to comprehensive lifestyle improvement programs to preventive screenings, Highmark understands the value of health prevention and maintenance. Having one more piece of valuable information — your personal genetic makeup — through a personalized health program powered by genomics gives individuals even more information and power to make the right lifestyle and health choices.”

Highmark will not have access to any results of any test purchased through Navigenics. Genetic testing results are also protected under federal law. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 protects Americans from being treated unfairly because of differences in DNA that may affect health. The law prevents DNA information from being used against individuals in health insurance or the workplace.

Also starting today, the program will be offered to individuals through an educational conversation with a trained specialist at six Highmark Direct locations in Pennsylvania.

About Navigenics
Navigenics, Inc. develops and commercializes genetics-based products and services to improve individual health and wellness. Navigenics educates and empowers individuals and their physicians by providing clinically actionable, personalized genetic insights about disease risk and medication response to catalyze behavior change and inform clinical decision-making. The company was founded by leading scientists and clinicians, and continues to advance genomic knowledge and adoption of molecular medicine through studies with leading academic centers. Navigenics’ services are available through employer wellness programs and health plans, as well as through physicians and medical centers. Among Navigenics’ investors are Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures and The Procter & Gamble Company. For more information, visit www.navigenics.com.

About Highmark Inc.
Highmark Inc., based in Pittsburgh, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Highmark serves 4.8 million members in Pennsylvania and West Virginia through the company’s health care benefits business and is one of the largest Blue plans in the nation. Highmark has 19,500 employees across the country. For more than 70 years, Highmark’s commitment to the community has consistently been among the company’s highest priorities as it strives to positively impact the communities where we do business. For more information, visit www.highmark.com.

Home Health Monitoring May Significantly Improve Blood Pressure Control, Kaiser Permanente Study Finds

The use of at-home blood pressure monitors and web-based reporting tools that connect clinicians and patients via the Internet appears to significantly improve patients’ ability to manage their high blood pressure to healthy levels, according to research from Kaiser Permanente.

The study, led by Kaiser Permanente Colorado in collaboration with the American Heart Association and Microsoft Corp., involved 348 patients with uncontrolled hypertension, ages 18-85 years. The initial study data was presented today by Kaiser Permanente Colorado researchers at the American Heart Association’s 11th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke.

“Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s Institute for Health Research is committed to studying innovative ways to make care more patient-centered in order to improve quality,” said lead author David Magid, MD, Kaiser Permanente senior scientist. “While more research is necessary, our study suggests that using technology to engage individuals in their care at home may be a better way to help patients achieve a healthy blood pressure.”

As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension), a leading predictor of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 69 percent of people who have a first attack and 77 percent who have a first stroke suffer from elevated blood pressure levels.

The participants were randomized to a usual care group or a home monitoring group. All patients had their blood pressure measured in the medical office at the start of the six-month study. The usual care group was managed in a typical model that involved checking blood pressure during office visits.

The home monitoring group used an at-home blood pressure device that uploaded data to the patient’s account in Microsoft HealthVault, a security-enhanced, Web-based data storage platform. At the time of entering the study, the participants opted into a Kaiser Permanente application that automatically transferred the home blood pressure readings to Kaiser Permanente’s electronic disease registry. Kaiser Permanente’s clinical pharmacists used the computerized registry to monitor readings and consulted with patients to adjust their antihypertensive medications based on proven protocols. Connected to HealthVault, patients were able to manage their data using Heart360, a free online tool provided by the American Heart Association.

At the start of the study, the average systolic blood pressure was 149 mm Hg in the home monitoring group and 145 mm Hg in the usual care group. At six months, patients in the home monitoring group were 50 percent more likely to have their blood pressure controlled to healthy levels compared to the usual care group. Similarly, a significantly greater decrease in systolic blood pressure at six months occurred in the home monitoring group (-21 mm Hg) versus the usual care group (-9 mm Hg).

Health experts have long known that the current approach to managing hypertension has its shortcomings. Patients often don’t comply with in-person visits and when they do, the measurements can be inconsistent or inaccurate. In light of these shortcomings, the American Heart Association recently began recommending home monitoring. However, prior research conducted by Dr. Magid found that when patients used home monitoring, but were required to write down and call-in results, blood pressure goals only slightly improved. This latest study provides an additional layer of automation and convenience by directly feeding the readings from the home blood pressure cuff to the patient’s care team via sophisticated health-IT tools.

“While the in-person doctor-patient relationship will always be a cornerstone of care, one day the use of coordinated, secure health information technologies based at home or work could complement visits in a medical office,” noted co-author Kari Olson, PharmD, a clinical pharmacy specialist at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

“Engaging patients with tools that make health management more accessible is a critical step in addressing the alarming growth of chronic diseases and associated increase in costs,” said Peter Neupert, corporate vice president of the Health Solutions Group at Microsoft. “The preliminary results of this clinical trial are significant and demonstrate how cost-effective and flexible technology solutions can encourage patients to be active partners in their health and help decrease their risk for life-threatening, acute care incidents.”

This Kaiser Permanente Colorado research is part of a larger effort at Kaiser Permanente to study remote monitoring and connected telehealth to deliver health care at a distance outside of the traditional health care facilities.

About Microsoft HealthVault

Microsoft HealthVault is a personal health application platform designed to put consumers in control of their health information. HealthVault provides a privacy- and security-enhanced foundation on which a broad ecosystem of providers can build innovative health and wellness solutions such as personal health records, disease management, fitness, weight loss and other Web applications. HealthVault can be used to collect and store health information that would otherwise reside in disparate systems and transfer the information between a variety of providers’ health services and systems. It enables the reuse and free flow of interoperable and transportable personal health information. More information is available at http://www.healthvault.com.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential. Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://www.microsoft.com/news. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://www.microsoft.com/news/contactpr.mspx.

Healthcare Groups Collaborate On New Reference Guides For Personal Health Records

Several groups across the healthcare sector will rollout two new “Personal Health Record (PHR) Quick Reference Guides” in an effort to educate consumers and clinicians about how PHRs can be useful tools for making more informed healthcare decisions and enhancing care coordination.

The easy-to-use guides, one for consumers and one for clinicians, include basic information about PHRs along with a FAQ section designed to increase understanding of the value of using and maintaining a PHR.  The guides were created by a collaboration of healthcare groups including the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Osteopathic Association of Medical Informatics (AOAMI), and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

PHRs are vital healthcare tools that allow consumers to store health information such as medical conditions, allergies, medications, and doctor or hospital visits in one convenient and secure place.  The consumer controls how the information in the PHR is shared, and with whom.

“Empowering consumers and clinicians with readily available health information helps get the right information into the right hands at the right time.  Health plans are playing a valuable role in providing consumers with the tools and information necessary to make well-informed healthcare decisions,” said Dr. Allan Korn, BCBSA senior vice president and chief medical officer.  “PHRs can be an important contribution to helping personalize a patient’s healthcare experience.”

According to a recent survey of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, 90 percent of respondents currently offer or are planning to offer PHRs to their members, which is a significant increase over the 56 percent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies who offered or planned to offer PHRs in 2008.

PHRs also enable individual patients and their designated caregivers to view and manage health information and play a greater role in their own healthcare choices.  “Patients have the ability to quickly and readily share healthcare information via a PHR, allowing providers to help determine a treatment plan and keep track of chronic diseases such as diabetes,” said Joseph W. Stubbs, MD, FACP, president, ACP.

“Encouraging physicians, other providers and patients to utilize PHRs will help streamline care coordination and improve the delivery of care,” said Daniel W. Saylak, DO, president of the AOAMI.  “PHRs have the ability to encourage individuals to make healthier lifestyle decisions.”

While PHR usage continues to grow, these new quick reference guides were designed to help improve consumers’ familiarity and comfort level with PHR tools to encourage more participation.  “Increased utilization of health information tools such as PHRs is one avenue to help improve healthcare quality and efficiency,” said William F. Jessee, MD, FACMPE, president and CEO of MGMA.

For more information about PHRs or to download copies of the PHR Quick Reference Guides for consumers or providers, please visit www.bcbs.com/phr_guide.

About American Osteopathic Association of Medical Informatics
The American Osteopathic Association of Medical Informatics (AOAMI) is a 501(c) not-for-profit member association.  It is the only medical informatics specialty association that serves the needs of osteopathic physicians as well as corporate members.  Its primary purpose is to promote expertise in the use of technology in support of patient care.  To learn more about the AOAMI, visit our Web site at www.aoami.org.

About American College of Physicians
The American College of Physicians (www.acponline.org ( http://www.acponline.org/ )) is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States.  ACP members include 129,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students.  Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults.  Follow ACP on Twitter (www.twitter.com/acpinternists) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/acpinternists).

About MGMA
MGMA is the premier membership association for professional administrators and leaders of medical group practices.  Since 1926, MGMA has delivered networking, professional education and resources, and political advocacy for medical practice management.  Today, MGMA’s 21,500 members lead 13,700 organizations nationwide in which some 275,000 physicians provide more than 40 percent of the health care services delivered in the United States.

MGMA’s mission is to continually improve the performance of medical group practice professionals and the organizations they represent.  MGMA promotes the group practice model as the optimal framework for health care delivery, assisting group practices in providing efficient, safe, patient-focused and affordable care.  MGMA is headquartered in Englewood, Colo., and maintains a government affairs office in Washington, D.C.  Please visit mgma.com and follow our Twitter list to find out which medical practices are using social media.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 39 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide healthcare coverage for nearly 100 million members – one-in-three Americans. For more information on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its member companies, please visit www.BCBS.com.