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The team at Wisdo Health shares their thoughts on the loneliness epidemic and the power of peer support to combat loneliness.

Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic and Its Impact on Mental Health 

Today, loneliness affects 50% of U.S. adults, with rates exceeding 75% for non-White populations and 72% for Medicaid members. In a landmark 2023 Advisory, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared loneliness and social isolation a public health crisis. According to the Advisory, lack of social connection is as lethal as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, doubling the risk of developing depression and anxiety and increasing the risk of heart disease (29%), stroke (32%), and dementia (50%). Adults experiencing loneliness have lower motivation to enroll and remain engaged in clinical programs, including therapy. Loneliness not only affects individual health but also translates into substantial economic costs, with health plans spending an estimated $1,644 more annually on socially isolated individuals.

With 50%+ of U.S. adults suffering from the devastating impacts of loneliness and social isolation, many health plans, behavioral health providers, and teletherapy companies are grappling with how to address this epidemic and its significant impact on activation rates, adherence to treatment plans, and overall costs. 

The Power of Peer Support Communities

Decades of research by experts such as Professor Daniel Russell, co-developer of the validated UCLA Loneliness Scale, highlight that to effectively combat loneliness, interventions must encompass the four pillars of social health:

  1. Emotional support from peers (i.e., real people who understand what you are going through).
  2. Sense of belonging.
  3. Increased self-worth.
  4. Reliable alliance - the realization that there are others you can rely on and that others can rely on you.  

Peer support is the interpersonal connection based on shared lived experiences characterized by empathy and validation. Peer support has been associated with increased engagement in self-care, improved quality of life, reduced substance use, depression symptoms, and hospital admission rates for some mental health disorders. It is, therefore, uniquely and ideally positioned to provide an evidence-based, scalable, and cost-effective solution to the challenges that loneliness poses on health plans and telehealth companies. 

The Wisdo Health Methodology

At Wisdo Health, our mission is to eradicate loneliness through evidence-driven and AI-assisted peer support and companionship, combining the power of a supportive community, predictive recommendation engines, and the science of social health. To provide a comprehensive experience that integrates the four pillars of social health, we designed a peer support and social health platform that applies AI to proactively connect members with real peers, not bots, who have been in their shoes and can provide emotional support and companionship to reduce their loneliness and improve their mental health and well-being. We offer 30+ peer communities covering mental health, physical health, life stressors such as caregiving, and social determinants of health. Peer communities are moderated for safety and available to members 24/7. Participants can also access group coaching to improve their social health, engage in monthly check-ins and get connected with higher levels of care such as teletherapy or related  SDOH and clinical programs. The result is that on the Wisdo app, members are never alone because they are always surrounded by people they can lean on 24/7. To date, a diverse group of 500,000+ adults (48% of whom are BIPOC) have used Wisdo to cope with the devastating impact of loneliness.   

The Impact of Peer Support

There is increasing evidence of the clinical and economic benefits of digitally enabled peer support platforms. At Wisdo, we have diligently been collecting and publishing data to help promote the tremendous potential of peer support.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Clinically and statistically significant reduction in loneliness, depression, and anxiety rates (p<.001)
  • A 20% success rate in referring at-risk members to teletherapy
  • Estimated annual medical cost reduction of $600-$1,200 per member 
  • 20%+ activation rates
  • 25-40% retention rates at 12 months

A recent study published in JMIR about our efficacy with the vulnerable adult population in the State of Colorado can be viewed here.

Benefits for Payers and Teletherapy Companies

According to research, loneliness is the strongest predictor of dissatisfaction with healthcare. The loneliness epidemic is impacting payers and teletherapy companies across almost every aspect of the member journey. Integrating peer support communities into the members' journey will provide significant benefits such as:

  • Reduce Acquisition Costs - With members' strong interest in joining safe peer support where they can connect with others going through similar life challenges, the cost of acquisition can be reduced to under $25 per member.  
  • Provide a cost-effective solution to sub-clinical patients who don't need therapy. 
  • Enhance adherence to the treatment plan. 
  • Offer support post-therapy treatment.  
  • Collect and identify ICD-10 Z-codes, gaps in care, and referral opportunities to prevent costs from spiraling.  
Together we can build a healthier more connected society

The role of community and peer support has never been more pivotal as we continue to seek ways to improve health outcomes, engagement rates, and reduce costs across mental health, chronic disease, and social drivers of health. Meaningful connections, companionship, friendship, and community are basic human needs, highly sought by individuals and proven to improve health and wellness. With the progress in AI and the body of research to back up the efficacy of peer support, health organizations have the opportunity to make a significant and cost-effective impact on the health of their members. We have the opportunity to ensure no one has to face health challenges alone. Together, we can turn the tide against the loneliness epidemic and build a healthier, more connected society.

Learn more about Wisdo Health at www.wisdo.com