03/09/2015 12:57 pm ET Updated May 09, 2015

Proof! Happier and Healthier Heart Patients Generate Savings

It's quite a thing to start a company like AbilTo and to be lucky enough to to see it grow and prosper. This is particularly the case because we are in the business of alleviating avoidable human suffering. It's unbelievably rewarding work and ridiculously challenging. The work itself is hard enough, and is made all the more more challenging by the legacy of all the well-intentioned failures that preceded us.

On the one hand, everyone knows that we have to do a better job with high-need, high-cost medical populations - e.g., heart patients, diabetics and non-acute pain sufferers -but there's almost no consensus regarding how best to help them. On the other hand, good companies trying and failing to make a difference have misspent billions in the past decade. Sure, some of these efforts work, but pretty much all of them have proven financially unsound. Any resulting health gain is so expensive that well-intentioned health plans and employers simply cannot afford to fund them over the long-term.

What's really needed is something truly innovative, something that makes patients happier, healthier and more productive - all while saving employers and health plans money. AbilTo and our partners at Aetna implemented such a 'best practice' three years ago. Heart patients covered by Aetna - e.g., those experiencing heart attacks - took part in one of AbilTo's specially designed, behavioral change programs. These patients participated from home, at a time of their own convenience; and they got:

•Happier - less depressed;
•Healthier - less likely to spend time in the hospital; and
•Immediately less expensive to treat.

In fact, for every dollar spent on this program, the health plan or plan sponsor saw almost four dollars of savings.

If you work in healthcare, you've heard this sort of thing before. What you haven't seen is proof. That changes now. AbilTo and Aetna co-authored a study, which the prestigious, peer-reviewed American Journal of Managed Care published; it proves that patients completing AbilTo's cardiac program after a cardiac event, like a heart attack, were re-admitted to the hospital with less frequency and duration in the six months following a heart attack. This is not AbilTo's contention: it is an empirical fact derived from Aetna's claims/billing data.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first-ever study that proves that a behavioral change program is both financially sustainable by health plans and employers, and able to help individuals lead the sort of happy, healthy and productive lives that they deserve. More are coming, but for today I'm content to congratulate everyone at AbilTo and Aetna, particularly the authors: Dr. Reena Pande and Aimee Peters, LCSW from AbilTo along with Michael Morris, Claire Spettell, PhD, Dr. Richard Feifer and William Gillis, PsyD.