HabitNu grows up at MATTER, wins CDC recognition for diabetes prevention

Like many, HabitNu Founder Sindhu Rajan, PhD, has lost family and friends to diabetes. More than 90 million adults in the U.S. are at risk of developing the disease. Without intervention, 50% of these adults will likely develop diabetes in the next five to seven years.

“I’m a scientist, and researching type 2 diabetes was not a coincidence,” she said.

Before founding HabitNu, Sindhu spent 12 years researching type 2 diabetes at Yale University and the University of Chicago. During this time, she grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of evidence-based support for people at risk for type 2 diabetes. Despite a robust body of scientific literature supporting prevention programs, most prediabetic patients get only five minutes with their doctor and a brochure.

“Diabetes is a preventable condition,” Sindhu said. In a randomized clinical trial conducted in the early 2000s by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health, researchers found that people with prediabetes who participate in a structured lifestyle-change program can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%. This research-based program, known as the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), held great promise for the millions of Americans living with prediabetes — but the program struggled to reach the people who could benefit from it. As of 2016, there were no National DPPs in the city of Chicago.

“I decided there had to be more attention given to prevention, not just management,” she said.

In 2015, Sindhu became one of the first entrepreneurs to join MATTER. With encouragement from the MATTER team, she started a DPP at MATTER, giving Chicagoans access to this researched-based program for the first time.

But with one-in-three American adults at risk of developing diabetes, Sindhu knew she needed to scale — and to scale, she knew the DPP needed to grow beyond a pen- and paper-model.

Last month, HabitNu became one of only a handful of digital DPP programs to receive full recognition from the CDC. This recognition is a big step: Now, HabitNu qualifies for reimbursement from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Service (CMS). As a preventive service, people with prediabetes can participate in the DPP program as a free benefit with no copay — and, thanks to HabitNu’s technology, the program can scale to reach the 90 million people who need it.

“This model is a big step for U.S. healthcare and performance-based payment,” Sindhu said. “For the first time, CMS has reimbursed for both outcomes and prevention.”

Today, thousands of people are participating in a DPP through HabitNu’s technology. With full CDC recognition in hand, the company plans to quickly expand the availability of the program, partnering with health providers, retail pharmacies and fitness clubs across the country that are interested in hosting a DPP and, importantly, qualifying for reimbursement.

As for Chicago’s first DPP, cohorts of people continue to meet at MATTER to support one another and achieve healthier lifestyles together — all thanks to the technology-based support system Sindhu was determined to build.

“MATTER has been instrumental to HabitNu at every step along the way,” reflected Sindhu. “We grew with MATTER.”

Learn more about HabiNu.