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If you’ve ever forgotten to take your medication, you’re hardly alone: according to estimates, as many as half of American fail to follow a prescribed regimen. And the consequences aren’t just harmful to the individual patients, but the health system overall. The New England Healthcare Institute reports that patients who don’t take their prescription medication cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $290 billion in avoidable medical costs each year.
Mango Health, a health startup launched by former executives from mobile gaming company ngmoco, believes that by combining game mechanics with an intuitive, fun design and useful features, they can keep patients on track. Since August, the company has been beta testing the app with a small set of users, but on Tuesday it said it had launched in the app store.
“One of the biggest challenges in this space… is long-time use, loyalty and retention – and that’s the skill we bring,” said co-founder Jason Oberfest. Over the course of a 16-week pilot, he said, Mango Health’s medication adherence app saw engagement rates that were three to four times higher than any of its best performing mobile games.
The app offers several tools, including a simple way to check for medication interactions and timed reminders to take your meds. The app’s colorful, clean design is more inviting than many health apps on the market. But the real trick to getting people to stay hooked is a reward system. Each day, users have the opportunity to earn 10 points for letting the app know that they took their medication. Over time, those points can be redeemed for perks like Target gift cards and charity donations.
Several other health startups are attempting to address the same problem with different kinds of technology. MediSafe, for example, also offers a mobile app that reminds patients to take their meds, and if they don’t indicate that they’ve done so, the app notifies a friend, family member or a caregiver. AdhereTech, which was part of health startup accelerator Blueprint Health, uses sensor-equipped pill bottles to monitor whether patients take their prescriptions. And AllazoHealth, another Blueprint company, uses demographic, behavioral and other data to help health insurers and pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) predict who will stick to their regime and who won’t and then determines the most appropriate interventions.
With a successful background in gaming, Mango Health’s founders bring an interesting perspective to the health care. But, as with all new approaches to behavior change, it will be interesting to see how effective the app is over time. The company, which launched last summer, has raised $1.45 million from Floodgate Fund, First Round Capital, Steve Anderson with Baseline Ventures, Zynga co-founder and CEO Mark Pincus and Khosla Ventures’ Keith Rabois.