Highmark strikes deal with Verily as part of broader Google partnership

Verily’s Onduo, a digital health platform for managing type 2 diabetes, will become part of a broader partnership between Google Cloud and insurer Highmark Health. Photo credit: Verily

In December, Google Cloud struck a six-year partnership with insurer Highmark Health, which included plans to improve the health of patients with chronic conditions. Now, sister company Verily Life Sciences is being pulled into that effort.

Part of the plan is to use digital health solutions to manage chronic conditions, including congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In a pilot last summer, Highmark rolled out Verily’s digital health platform, Onduo, for managing type 2 diabetes, Highmark Chief Medical and Clinical Transformation Officer Dr. Tony Farah said in a press call.

Now Onduo will have a sandbox to develop and test more digital health solutions, which involve a combination of virtual care, connected devices and coaching. Highmark is looking to roll out more condition-based solutions for patients with heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which dovetails with Onduo’s plans to expand into more chronic conditions, including hypertension and mental wellness.

Highmark, which is affiliated with Blue Cross Blue Shield and has a little over 5 million members, plans to implement these tools in all of its markets, COO Karen Hanlon said. It also own Pittsburgh-based hospital system Allegheny Health Network.

“This will span our entire health insurance population,” she said, adding that “hundreds of thousands” of patients who had chronic conditions would be eligible to participate.

Initially, Google Cloud and Highmark struck the partnership with the idea of building a platform to make it easier for patients to share health information between visits. The partnership with Verily will tie into that work.

For example, Onduo’s platform for type 2 diabetes lets people take pictures of their meals and syncs with continuous glucose monitors to detect patterns in changes to their blood sugar levels. It also pulls in claims data, direct care data and other information to come up with care plans for patients.

The company began meeting with Highmark’s primary care physicians and endocrinologists at the start of the pilot last year, Onduo CEO Dr. Vindell Washington said.

As the partners expand into other conditions, it’s not clear exactly what those programs will look like, but Farah said he hoped to be able to build predictive tools for patient outreach.

“When you talk about congestive heart failure or COPD, those are hundreds of thousands of people who end up in the emergency rooms all the time,” he said. “Having machine learning and AI in the background will help us predict based on a number of factors — whether they’re clinical or based on demographics and behavioral patterns — ahead of time when to intervene.”

From a privacy perspective, Verily will join an existing governance structure between Highmark Health and Google Cloud, including a data ethics and review board. Highmark said it will be able to control access and use of patient data.

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