Staying true to a health or fitness regimen can be tough, but San Francisco-based Mango Health is looking to see whether an app can help with that.
The seven-person startup just did a full launch of their app following a 16-week trial where they tracked whether regular notifications helped prescription drug takers keep on top of taking their medications every day.
CEO Jason Oberfest, who came from a career in social gaming and networking with stints at DeNA’s Ngmoco and MySpace, said user retention in the trial beat what he saw with the mobile games he had launched in his previous career by three or four times. The trial was fairly small at just over 100 people.
Now the app is fully available to everyone on iOS. (Android will come at a later point.)
Mango Health takes tactics from the gaming world and applies them to one of the pharmaceutical industry’s toughest problems — prescription adherence. If people don’t stay on top of taking their medications properly, they could end up aggravating long-term health problems that could be more expensive to treat in the long run. Oberfest says this is a $300 billion-a-year problem.
“It’s such a pressing issue that some U.S. physicians now refer to it as a ‘silent epidemic’ facing the U.S. healthcare system,” he said.
He says that the current ways the industry tries to treat this problem involve tracking patient consumption of medication or analyzing back office data to identify people who are at risk of falling off a regimen.
A mobile app, with proper notifications and information about how to avoid harmful drug and food interactions, could be a more effective way of nudging people to stay on track. Patients who take their medications properly can get rewards like discounts or gift cards for Whole Foods and Gap.
Mango Health’s app gamifies the whole process with eight different levels that offer different kinds of rewards that range up to $100 gift certificates or discounts. It also keeps a journal of medications and supplements that people take.
Mango Health’s revenue model has to balance many different interest groups. On the one hand, the company is working with brands to offer users rewards; it’s a practice borrowed from the social gaming world where brands would give offers to gamers if they downloaded titles or paid for virtual currency.
Instead, in this model, these offers and rewards are used as a carrot to keep people taking their medications properly.
“In the very end, good game design is about changing human behavior,” he said. “To be able to apply that in an area that can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives gets me so excited to come to work every day.”
In turn, brands in the app get to reach a target market of people who care about their health and wellness. Mango is announcing a partnership with Target today, but Oberfest couldn’t comment on whether the retailer is paying the startup anything for being included in the app.
On the other side, Mango Health could also work with health care organizations, HMOs or big employers that have health and wellness plans. Partnerships on this side could help health providers incentivize their patients or pool of insured customers to take steps that could prevent more expensive health problems in the long run.
Mango has seven employees and has raised $3.1 million to date from 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. They also took a bit of extra seed funding recently from Bullpen Capital and Ray Rothrock, a Venrock partner that invested as an individual.