Comcast has partnered with UnitedHealthcare Group to launch a 12-month study featuring 16 On Demand episodes of the show “Not Me,” a lifestyle change program designed for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If all goes according to plan, the new show could pave the way for the MSO’s entry into the heathcare business.
The series, available in Knoxville and Philadelphia to Comcast subscribers since Feb. 27, is essentially an On Demand version of the Diabetes Prevention Program, designed by Dr. Ronald Ackermann, a national expert in the prevention and control of chronic illnesses. Episodes follow the progress, meetings and outings—such as a group trip to a state fair and the food choices entailed—of 6 study participants characterized as pre-diabetic.
According to Mark Coblitz, Senior Vice President Strategic Planning, Comcast Corporation, the company has been working with the healthcare industry for the past 15 years in various capacities and with other partners, but the business model never made sense. “In the past, from the healthcare perspective it worked really well, but from business perspective, we used it as a learning experience.” The key takeaway: providing additional care in someone’s home on a periodic basic works.
Take a previous study, in which elderly patients suffering from congestive heart failure showed high engagement levels with television. A critical component, noted Coblitz, is choosing the appropriate device for the demographic. “Some people say, why not do everything on a smartphone? But not everyone likes to do that. People need to be comfortable.” The key question is a familiar one: how to marry the right technology with the right business model using scale?
What makes this study different than the others, said Coblitz, is that this time around Comcast is integrating entertainment with teachings—a combo he hopes will build engagement. The UnitedHealthcare study tracks at total of 300 participants, instructed to practice the skills they learn from the meetings in between the weekly episodes. Participants are given food-tracking assignments, weigh themselves with a cellular scale and engage with researchers via phone calls and the Internet. Think “The Biggest Loser,” with an educational, interactive twist.
If the VOD version is successful, meaning the participants lose close to 5-7% of their total body weight, the goal is to scale the program. And with a staggering amount of Americans headed for pre-diabetic status by the end of next year, business opportunities abound. “The marketplace for this is huge,” said Coblitz. He isn’t ready to reveal the potential business model for the program just yet, but he forsees it will be viable for the long-term. Comcast plans to expand into other areas of healthcare as well, with more announcements coming soon.