Dr Robert Groves Gives Overview of Results From Virta Diabetes Reversal Program

Banner|Aetna has partnered with Virta and their diabetes reversal program, which now has data on outcomes and patient populations served so far.

Dr Robert Groves, chief medical officer and executive vice president for the joint venture Banner|Aetna, reviews results of a type 2 diabetes reversal program provided to its members through an alliance with Virta Health, what he’s seen so far, and the patient populations that have been helped.


How many patients took part in the type 2 diabetes reversal program, and how were they chosen or encouraged to participate?

We've been working with Virta [Health’s program] for about a year to recruit patients to diabetes reversal. Which, when I first heard the term, I didn't believe it was possible either. But we've gotten I guess close to 800 patients now are either already enrolled in the program or in the process of being evaluated to join the program. I think what happens is, we reach out in a variety of ways. And so, they may find out about it through an email, they may find out about it through a flyer, but what really starts the ball rolling is when people start to experience the success, and they start talking to their colleagues. And you can see that happen at different times in different places. For example, the Banner [Health] employee plan today is part of that Virta cohort, so those eligible diabetics have the opportunity to take advantage of Virta for free, and that group is growing very, very fast, which does 2 things: number one, it tells you that there's some interest in this process, and also when health care workers are signing up to do this, it's an additional validation of the whole process and how it works.

What were some of the patient demographics in the program?

I would say that where Virta is currently rolled out across the country, it's a very diverse population. Almost a third of them are from the most disadvantaged by standard measures of social determinants, and 20% of them are Hispanic or Latino, and another 33% are Native American, again, because of the places where they've grown the fastest, and about 40% are Caucasian.

Can you briefly describe the results so far, and did the 6-month results match or exceed your expectations?

Yeah, you know, it's remarkable. I remember talking to Brett Rubin, who was our contact at Virta early on, and they wanted to do a pilot at Banner. And they said, here's what you can expect. And they quoted that, you get at least a one-point reduction to the A1C, you know, around 40% of your population will get off of diabetes-specific medication, which should shock you that, that's not how we were taught in medical school, and you'll get about a 5%, or better weight loss. They said those things are predictable. In fact, they guarantee it. And I thought, that’s remarkable, because the numbers were going to be pretty small, the pilot 50. But when the numbers came back at 6 months, and at 1 year, they track that very, very closely, they are there and better. And so, in the first 6 months at Banner, once again, it's predictable.

The hemoglobin A1C, which is a measure of overall diabetes care in terms of blood sugar control, dropped to 1.4%. And the weight loss was around 8.2%, on average for the population, but a quarter of them lost 15% of their body weight or more. Now we're getting into the new drugs for weight loss that's in that category. And this is without drugs, simply by addressing the lifestyle in diabetics. And then the final piece of the puzzle is that half the patients did indeed get off of all of their diabetes-specific medication, remove metformin from that list, because metformin is used for so many other things, including longevity in diabetics, so we don't try to actively, Virta doesn’t try to actively disengage patients from that medication in particular.

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