Mango Health takes on chronic conditions

Mango Health said a study shows its app increased medication adherence among hard-to-reach patients
Mango Health said a study shows its app increased medication adherence among hard-to-reach patients

Getting the hardest-to-reach patients to change their health habits is a promise that Mango Health says the 2.0 version of its mobile app can achieve.

Updates to the app, which started as a medication adherence tool two years ago, now allow patients to track their glucose levels, blood pressure, weight and steps, in addition to tracking their medication adherence. The company announced the new features at the Google I/O conference Thursday.

Mango Health co-founder and CEO Jason Oberfest told MM&M that the goal is to make it easier for patients with chronic conditions to manage their health. The app is already prescribed by doctors and promoted by some health insurers and users talk about how the app has helped them manage their health on the firm's Facebook page.

This new version, however, is supported by a clinical study that showed that medication adherence rose for all patients using the app and increased by 20% among patients with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. These latter patients are considered some of the hardest to prod into adopting new behaviors.

Oberfest declined to share the healthcare provider that conducted the study because of pre-publication restrictions by medical journals, but he said that the study showed that in addition to helping patients stick with their medication regimens, users still interacted with the program an average of 17 times a week after a year of use. Interacting with the app meant users had to use it—opening it or just downloading it did not count.

Oberfest said this level of engagement came from the patients—the company was not pushing out download reminders or using other types of promotion—after doctors told patients about the app.

“Chronic condition management is about engaging patient populations every day for long periods of time with a product that inspires them to think or move differently,” Oberfest said.

Mango Health assumed that if it could make a daily task like taking a medication fun and effective it would lead to a strong daily relationship between the patient and the app that would allow the company to provide more robust user support.

Mango's goal is to make tracking health feel effortless and rewarding, concepts that are behind features like supportive messages that he said “catch someone doing something right” and celebrating moments like a perfect week of medication adherence with messages of congratulations and extra points in the app's point system.

The points don't provide rewards or other incentives, but Oberfest said they encourage users to continue using the app because they provide a way of tracking progress and provide a sense of achievement. Users have said the points give them a sense of control. (Some Mango Health partners do tack on actual rewards, such as a gift card for milestones like sticking with a medication regimen for three months.)

Activity monitors like Fitbit and Jawbone offer similar features, as does WebMD's Healthy Target app, but Oberfest, who has Fitbit and Jawbone activity monitors, said the differentiating factor is that Mango's audience already uses smartphones and the app does not require purchasing an additional device like an activity tracker.

Women in their mid-fifties make up the core demographic, which he said surprises many, but then again, the Candy Crush audience is older than most people anticipate. He said these women use their phones throughout the day for tasks as varied as playing games or for online banking and that the app was created to look and feel like apps they use throughout the day. Plus, if they do have activity monitors, that information can be funneled into the app.

The Candy Crush reference is notable because social gaming and engagement were the foundation of the founder's career prior to forming Mango Health. Oberfest previously worked as the VP of social applications for Ngmoco, a video gaming company founded by a former Electronic Arts executive.

Although some activity monitors offer encouragement, with messages like “You Rock” and badges, similar to the Mango app, he said the app is different because unlike activity monitors, it is not passive. Users need to use the app to get a reaction.

Additional features are already in development. These include dusting off the caregiver perspective that was explored and then abandoned when developing the first version. In the future users may be able to create medication reminders or other goals to manage the medication regimens of family and friends for whom they provide care. He said a small group of users were interested in the capability, though many said it felt like an invasion of privacy. But he said some users are creating accounts for others, then logging on to see if the registered user is following the prescription program.

Oberfest said that they've also seen communities based on certain conditions or diseases pop up among Mango Health users—people with rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are two patient groups that are users of the app.

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