A healthcare platform that connects patients with lifestyle and disease management coaches is being trialled by the NHS as a possible means of preventing and managing diabetes.

Liva Healthcare is one of several solutions being piloted as part of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.

This large-scale initiative is designed to identify digitally-led approaches to tackling Type 2 diabetes. 3.4 million people in England are currently living with the condition, which is a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. It can often be prevented through lifestyle change.

Liva Healthcare is pitched as a lifestyle intervention platform, whereby people are given support to change their diet and increase their levels of physical activity. It puts patients in touch with human coaches, to whom they can regularly speak to discuss progress.

“We call ourselves a digital health company, but we’re trying to take the word ‘digital’ out of the equation,” co-founder Rune Bech told Digital Health News.

“The way we’re different from other players in the field is that most solutions are based on an algorithm. They are trying to replace the healthcare professional with algorithms.

“We’re going in the opposite direction. We’re building the whole solution on healthcare professionals, but we’re giving them the digital tools to do their work better and more efficiently.”

Lasting changes

Bech created Liva Healthcare alongside Dr Carl Brandt, a general practitioner based in Skagen, Denmark. The pair previously co-founded Netdoctor, the UK-based health and lifestyle website.

They report that initial trials of Liva Healthcare have offered promising results. In a study by the University of Newcastle, men with Type 2 diabetes living in the County Durham and Darlington area who were enrolled onto the platform showed an average weight loss of 5.4kg over a 12-month period.

Weight loss is crucial to diabetes management, as excess weight can cause a resistance to insulin.

There is evidence to suggest that improved diet and increased exercise can not only manage blood sugar levels without the need for medication, but can in some instances put Type 2 diabetes into remission and strip people of a diagnosis completely.

Bech told Digital Health News that a platform such as Liva Healthcare helps people make these lasting changes to their lifestyles. “It’s all about the relationship between the coach and the person. The relationships is what is going to help people break those habits.”

Liva Healthcare offers its platform through two models. The first is via a software-as-a-service offering, through which healthcare providers buy the platform and use their own healthcare staff to man it.

The other method of deployment is as a turnkey, end-to-end solution, whereby Liva Healthcare provides both IT services and the coaches themselves. This is the model to have been adopted by the NHS, which is trialling the service with 1,600 people across Yorkshire and Humber and north-east London.

The human touch

When patients are referred to the platform, they are first required to attend an hour-long meeting with their coach at their GP surgery. After agreeing on diet and exercise goals, the platform is set up for the patient according to their individual targets, and patient and coach speak on a weekly basis.

“We are finding that  initial conversation of immense importance, because it’s so much harder to give up your efforts when you are responsible to somebody that you have bonded with,” said Bech.

Proposed as a long-term solution and not a quick fix, Bech acknowledged Liva Healthcare might not be the cheapest option being assessed for the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. However, he argued it is the most sustainable, and the one most likely to deliver a meaningful return on investment.

“Public and private healthcare providers want to take diabetes patients they already have and make sure they do not become more expensive. If you are a public healthcare provider and have patients who are on their way towards a chronic disease label, it can save you a lot of money to do this as a preventative measure.

“That’s why I believe we’re driving sustainable results.”

As Liva Healthcare waits for the NHS’s ambitious programme to come to an end, Bech anticipates that all eyes will be on the UK for the outcome.

“I think you will see healthcare providers around the world look to Britain for the results. It’s a very defining moment in trying to tackle the diabetes challenge,” he said.

“We’re all quite excited – it will be a moment of truth for us to see what kind of solution is most cost-effective.”