Mango Health takes aim at medication adherence with game design principles

By: Jonah Comstock | Apr 3, 2013        

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Mango Health Mango Health, a Rock Health startup focused on using gamification principles to tackle medication adherence, launched its titular app after months of beta testing, a 16-week pilot, and not a small amount of hype. The company has raised $3 million so far.

Medication adherence is considered to be a $290 billion dollar per year problem, and it’s one that a number of mobile apps and connected devices have tried to tackle. Mango CEO and co-founder Jason Oberfest told MobiHealthNews that he thinks Mango is approaching the problem in an original way, owing to his and co-founder Gerald Cheong’s background at game company ngmoco.

“My sense of adherence initiatives in the industry is they’ve tended to focus on two primary areas: On the one side, better tracking of patient consumption of medication, and on the other side analysis of back-office patient data to identify at risk populations,” he said. “Our feeling is that the root cause of nonadherence is behavioral, and those approaches don’t address that.”

With Mango’s app, users enter their medications or supplements, timing, and doses. Like many existing adherence apps, Mango can remind patients when its time to take their medication. It also automatically alerts them to potentially dangerous interactions between medications, or with food and drink. The app also includes a personal health journal.

But it’s the game design principles that the founders hope will set the app apart. The app has an in-game currency users can earn by taking medications on time, and a leveling up system. By leveling and saving up, users can unlock real-world rewards with Mango’s partners, including donations to charities and rewards at stores like Target (which Mango just recently announced as a partner). The app also presents users with basic comparisons of their adherence against people with similar medication regiments or conditions.

Mango Health’s brand partners benefit from the partnership, Oberfest said, both because they have a general interest in improving people’s health and because health-oriented consumers are generally good customers to have, and Mango serves as a channel to get them into partners’ stores.

While many medication adherence technologies target older people with their products, Mango’s target demographic is 35 to 55-year-olds who were recently diagnosed with a chronic disease, according to Oberfest, although the pilot included users as young as 24 and as old as their late 70s. He said the pilot was very promising.

“For me, the most important measure is unaided return rate,” the number of people who continue to come back and use the app without prompting, said Oberfest, “And the unaided return rate that we were seeing was spectacularly good from my perspective. It far exceeded our expectations and was orders of magnitude more successful than the most successful social games we know of.”

Oberfest says the company has big plans going forward. Ultimately, he said, they plan to move beyond medication adherence to become “a hub for personal health management.” The company hopes to work with app and device companies tackling other health areas, as well as employers, payers, and providers. Expansion into Android devices is planned eventually as well, he said, although the company isn’t ready to commit to a timetable.