Adherence to prescription drugs and supplements is a problem that not only puts the long-term health of millions of patients at risk. It’s a problem that may add an extra $100 to 300 billion in health care costs in the U.S. alone.
Enter Mango Health, a startup that’s adapting some of the triggers and rewards from the social gaming industry to the complex world of health care. The startup is bringing an app into beta today that helps patients stay on track with their prescription medications and supplements. Mango Health has raised nearly $1.5 million from a stellar cast of investors including First Round Capital, Baseline’s Steve Anderson, Floodgate’s Mike Maples, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and Square’s chief operating officer Keith Rabois.
“People have a really hard time staying true to their treatment programs,” said co-founder Jason Oberfest, who is a former vice president at Ngmoco, the mobile gaming network that Japan’s DeNA acquired for up to $403 million in 2010. “The more we looked into it, we realized that many of the most common diseases that people have are ones where the consequences of the diseases are the most deferred. So can we use what we’ve learned about gaming to actually change behavior?”
The app includes daily reminders to take drugs at different points. Patients can self-report that they’ve stayed on schedule by taking photos of their drug containers. The more they stay on track, the more rewards they get. Mango Health is working with a number of unnamed brands right now to offer users rewards like magazine subscriptions, discounts on groceries and gift cards.
The model resembles offer walls in social games, where users can get virtual currency for signing up for different services or products. Naturally, this lends itself to a business that earns revenue by generating leads for other companies that are interesting marketing or reaching out to people who are concerned about health.
“There are lots of brands that want to be associated with consumer initiatives to get healthier,” he said.
In the app, there’s also a health journal where patients can keep track of their exercise and daily activities. Plus, there are alerts to tell users how their medications might interact with each other. There is also a social element which shows how well patients adhere to their regimens compared to others.
“We want to make things that are very mundane for a lot of people — like taking medications and supplements correctly — actually fun and elegant,” he said. “In a way, it was somewhat inspired with what Mint did with finance.”
Oberfest says the difference between Mango Health and other health tech-related startups is that it’s aiming for a very, very big potential user base. Many other companies, which produce add-ons or hardware, might only reach a pool of a few million users who are motivated enough to spend money on devices. Likewise, fitness apps might face the same problem as they reach people who really want to make the effort to stay in shape. Oberfest says four out five people in the U.S. have to take some kind of prescription drug or supplement.