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Howard County Times
Howard Magazine

Columbia-based Welldoc helps patients manage diabetes, hypertension and heart failure

Anand Iyer was jetting around the world for his job as a management consultant in 2007, leapfrogging geographical boundaries, cultures and time zones, landing in cities with which he was totally unfamiliar. That made it nearly impossible to safeguard his health.

“I was never eating at the right time or exercising when I should,” said Iyer, who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years earlier. “It was hard to make sure I was taking my meds at the right time.”

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As a result of the unpredictable nature of Iyer’s lifestyle, his blood glucose level was worrisomely high.

When he enrolled in a clinical trial for an online program created by Welldoc, a Columbia-based health care technology company founded in 2005, it was quite literally life-changing. Now, when Iyer travels, the BlueStar application on his mobile phone automatically pulls up a list of nearby restaurants that won’t send his blood glucose and cholesterol levels skyrocketing. It even takes the guesswork out of ordering off the menu by calling up a list of healthy dishes served at the restaurant of his choice.

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The result?

Iyer’s average blood glucose level dropped and is now consistently in the safe range. If it weren’t for Welldoc, Iyer thinks, he would be on insulin by now.

“I can’t state that scientifically,” said Iyer, who now is Welldoc’s chief strategy officer, “But I believe it in my heart.”

The company aims to help adults manage such chronic diseases as diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure. Welldoc markets its digital programs to health insurance companies;patients obtain an access code for the app from their doctors.

The company is proud that the FDA has granted nine clearances for its BlueStar app, allowing Welldoc to develop such advanced features as insulin management for diabetes patients and more personalized digital coaching. In addition to diet and exercise, the app contains sections for recording lab results, medications, sleep patterns and more.

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Iyer likes to joke “that the blockbuster drug of this century is going to be engaged patients” and adds: “If we do what our doctors and nurses tell us to do, over time, we will do a better job of managing our health.”

In some ways, he says, using the BlueStar app is a bit like shopping at the online retail marketing giant Amazon.com, which uses artificial intelligence to individually tailor product recommendations to customers.

“We’re getting used to more and more personalization in digital experiences,” Iyer said. “Why not our health? The app makes us active participants in managing our own health in a very personalized way.”

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In 2018, Welldoc conducted a study analyzing the blood glucose levels in more than 3,000 patients with type 2 diabetes aged 40 and older who had used the BlueStar app for a year. The study found that on average, patients showed a decline of between 1.1 and 2 points on a test that measures the patients’ A1C, or average blood sugar levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association, every point decrease in a patient’s A1C level is associated with a reduced risk of suffering long-term diabetes complications — a stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, blindness or a limb amputation — of up to 40%.

Diabetes is an immensely complicated condition. But Welldoc’s staff believes they’re starting to figure out one piece of the puzzle.

“This app can actually help people lead better, healthier lives,” Iyer said. “I know that, because I was one of those people.”


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