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Kevin McRaith, president of WellDoc, a Baltimore health care technology company, shows off BlueStar, a mobile app used for diabetes management. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

WellDoc promotes diabetes management app

Need a better way to manage your diabetes? There’s an app for that. It’s called BlueStar.

But this isn’t Candy Crush. BlueStar is available by prescription only.

Yes — as in, a prescription from your physician.

BlueStar, which helps users monitor their glucose levels and keep track of medications in real time, is perhaps the biggest accomplishment to date for WellDoc, the Baltimore-based health care technology firm that developed it.

It’s been cleared by the Food & Drug Administration for use by adults with Type 2 diabetes and is the first product of its kind, known as mobile prescription therapy.

And, thanks to a new partnership between WellDoc and the American Diabetes Association’s Maryland chapter, the innovative app might be more likely to find its way into the hands of the nearly 400,000 Marylanders with Type 2 diabetes.

“We talk a lot about diet and exercise; we never promote a certain type of pharmaceutical intervention,” said Kathy Rogers, executive director of ADA-Maryland. “That’s between the patient and their physician. We don’t get into that. But BlueStar is such a unique technology; it’s a tool that can really help patients, and we feel it’s important for them to know about it.”

WellDoc’s partnership with the ADA is essentially a sponsorship agreement; the company will have an educational booth at two of the ADA’s “Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes” events in Maryland next month.

Rogers declined to share how much WellDoc paid for the sponsorship but said packages range from $2,500 to $50,000.

The expense is likely well worth it for WellDoc, which was founded nine years ago and has recently been racking up accolades — and investments — from business, technology and media organizations.

The BlueStar platform could be adapted for other chronic diseases, but for now, the company’s main focus is on commercializing the app as a tool for diabetes management, said Kevin McRaith, WellDoc’s president.

McRaith stopped short of saying the goal of the partnership with the ADA is to boost sales of BlueStar, but he did say he hopes to promote awareness of the product in Maryland by working with the group.

Sales representatives have also been busy giving demos to physicians, whom they hope will see the potential benefits to patients and decide to “prescribe” the app.

Here’s how it works: Physicians who want to prescribe the product send a certain code to the pharmacy, just like they would for medications. The pharmacist reviews the patient’s information to affirm the “prescription” is appropriate for the individual’s medical condition.

Then, instead of dispensing a bottle of pills, the pharmacist activates a special code, which will activate the application on the patient’s phone, tablet or laptop. Once activated, BlueStar syncs with the patient’s personal medical data.

It knows the user’s medication regimen, personal health goals and medical history. The app regularly prompts users to input new information, like blood glucose levels, and it responds with customized messages.

If the patient has low blood glucose, BlueStar might suggest certain foods that could help. Fifteen minutes later, it might prompt users to retest their levels.

“And then you might get another message saying, ‘Good job, Kevin — here are some tips for the future,’” McRaith said. “… Our whole focus is on engaging patients and enhancing health outcomes.”

McRaith would not disclose how many patients use the app or how many physicians have agreed to prescribe it. He did say usage has increased by more than 50 percent since the first quarter of this year.

And, he and Rogers both said they’ve heard positive feedback from patients and physicians.

McRaith said BlueStar is “reimbursable” by insurance companies, but he wouldn’t say which insurers, if any, have so far agreed to cover it. He said the company is “still in the process” of working out arrangements with payers.

Rogers said insurer reimbursement is critical to making the app accessible to people who need it but can’t necessarily afford an additional expense.

“Managing diabetes is often frustrating,” she said. “This technology makes it a much more rewarding experience because patients have better access to their data and, in conjunction with their health care provider, can really fine-tune their management strategies.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.