Boaz Gaon, CEO of Wisdo Health, has first-hand experience when it comes to loneliness. Before starting his company, Gaon was the primary caregiver for his father, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer, then chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and finally lung cancer.
“We felt very alone,” he said. “We felt like it was difficult to impossible to find people who had been in our shoes, had the ability to support us emotionally, and were just available. None of the available solutions, mostly social networks, seemed able to meet this need.
This made Gaon start Wisdo, a social health platform that addresses loneliness and social isolation, in 2017. Through its app, Wisdo enables users to connect with peers, trained helpers and guides. It also provides coach-led skill-building support groups. When a user needs additional help, the company may refer them to external clinical services.
The company now has proven results in January study made in partnership with Humana. It found that after three months of using Wisdo, 58 percent of Humana Medicare Advantage participants reported lower levels of loneliness. Additionally, 19% fewer participants reported levels of severe loneliness and 13% of participants were no longer positive about loneliness.
The survey included 1,374 Humana members. To be eligible for the study, participants had to be between the ages of 65 and 80, live with at least one chronic disease, and have had at least one emergency room visit or hospital admission in the previous year. They also had to screen positive for loneliness using the UCLA-3, a measure of three dimensions of loneliness: relational connectedness, social connectedness, and self-perceived isolation. Before joining Wisdo, 43% of participants verified as single and 57% verified as very lonely.
“We were really surprised to observe the depths of solitude up close,” Gaon said.
The study found that at one month, participants had an average reduction of 6.5 days in the number of mentally and physically unhealthy days they experienced in the previous 30 days. Analysis of claims data also showed some positive results. There was a 10% reduction in hospital visits, a 4% reduction in emergency room visits and a 6% reduction in emergency room visits.
Additionally, 92% of participants said they would recommend Wisdo to others. About 42% of users still had access to Wisdo even a year after joining the program. Participants had an average of seven monthly visits to the app.
“Wisdo first helped me find support, then helped me learn new social skills that made all the difference,” said one user.
The level of engagement members have had with Wisdo’s app has “pleasantly surprised” Jennifer Spear, associate director of population health at Humana.
“Traditionally, there’s been an assumption that our Medicare Advantage members don’t want to engage digitally,” Spear said. “They don’t want to do these purely online programs. For those members who engaged, they really engaged… There was one member who had her Wisdo calendar and she would go to her groups and plan her weeks around that.”
Humana chose to work with Wisdo after seeing a need to address the loneliness of Medicare Advantage members, Spear added.
“What we really saw during the pandemic, in the early days of Covid, was this extra attention and extra need,” she said. “Our Medicare Advantage members were single and it was really becoming a problem. They were locked in their houses.
After achieving these results, Wisdo is looking for additional health plans to work with to further test its product, Gaon said.
“Hopefully, as we start new relationships, we’ll be able to work with new populations and learn more about how we can help specific people in specific conditions and circumstances,” he said.
Photo: FG Trade, Getty Images