Meet Diabetes, a disease that fetched India the ignominy of World's Diabetes capital. The IDF (International Diabetes Federation) claimed that India accounted for 49% of global diabetes burden with a whopping 72 million cases in 2017.
Diabetes in 2017 became the world's seventh leading cause of death and estimates suggest that by 2025 Diabetes related deaths may only double.
Although numbers narrate a grim tale, research tells Diabetes and especially type-2 diabetes can be treated or controlled by altering diet, reducing usage of tobacco, and maintaining body weight. And, Wellthy therapeutics a medical startup has found its calling in coaxing users towards healthy habits to control Diabetes.
The app-makers reveal that usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning on top of indianized data-sets is a revolutionary practice. This practice has helped reduce blood glucose level among users. The app has also managed to coax users into spending more time on exercise. Dr Rajeev Chawla, President for the Research Society for Diabetes in India explains in a note, "There is a desperate need of innovative solutions capable of delivering personalized health interventions at scale.”
"Wellthy Therapeutics Digital therapeutics suite, designed in collaboration with RSSDI, has the potential to drastically transform the way patient-centric health interventions are delivered across millions of Indians to prevent or delay life threatening health complications arising from mismanagement of diabetes," he adds.
In a quick conversation with Sify.com, Dr Vinod Mattoo, Chief Scientific Officer at Wellthy, explains how the app operates, major findings from their research and the artificial layer behind the app.
Sify: Tell us a bit about how the Wellthy app works?
Dr. Vinod Mattoo: Wellthy is a digital therapeutic coaching app. By having the patients’ attention, the app helps better manage digital health of the user. Basically, it reminds people things that they should do, they should consume, exercise patterns etc. Lifestyle diseases are not easy to overcome, especially Diabetes. In fact India is the Diabetes Capital of the World, and patients would require a lot of commitment and promise to overcome the disease. The coach does the part of digital intervention and nudges patients towards healthy diet, exercise regime, and medicines that their doctor prescribes.
Sify: Does the app prescribe medicines?
Dr. Mattoo: The app does not prescribe, but prompts the user towards the doctor's prescription. Sometimes, these prompts could be related to an injection that the user has skipped, or at times it could be engagement with some conversation related to awareness of diabetes.
This is a life coach that teaches people to control diabetes.
Our approach is patient-centric and we serve as the central point between a patient and doctor. The patient’s report goes directly to a doctor, and in fact one cannot start using the app without the prescription of a doctor.
Sify: What is the layer of artificial intelligence in this app?
Dr. Mattoo: The most interesting aspect is advice and coaching. That is where chatbots come into play. They explain diet, prescription and health related information in a friendly yet effective manner. The Coach can track how many calories are consumed. Sometimes, it also asks users to share photographs of their food and using that information we have managed to maintain a robust database of patient health.
For example, if a person is having chapatti, depending upon portion size and the approximate size in India the app counts the calories consumed. A major problem that we initially faced was determining the exact size of chapatti, and hence we asked users to put a driver’s license or a credit card next to the food to get the perspective and proper measurement.
Collecting this data has helped us understand what could be the exact calorific value of an Indian chapatti. We have recently added the category of fruits and are proud of this ever growing database.
Sify: What other elements have gone into making this app?
Dr. Mattoo: The template as the research factor is based on the American Society of Diabetes Educators. We discussed that with RSSDI (Research Society for Diabetes in India) and have indianized the central data points to a large extent. The database is locally relevant and includes many diet patterns.
Besides that, we have also been tracking patient outcomes and publishing it at several medical conferences. Ever since Abhishek Shah [CEO] started the enterprise in 2015, we have published 16 stacks to publications. This is a strong performance in terms of validation of what this technology provides.
Sify: What does your internal study of your users suggest about the usage of the app?
Dr. Mattoo: In our research of 102 respondents, we found a pattern among usage of our app and a decrease in blood sugar and increase in self-reported physical activity. The findings were presented at a Diabetes Conference held in Berlin.
We found that the most engaged patients reduced their fasting blood sugar readings by 21.4 mg/dL and cumulatively increased their exercise activity by 133 minutes during the study. Both observations were several times greater than the results for the least engaged cohort of patients.
These results are clinically significant and show that improved glycemic control and better patient self-management is possible by patients who engage with a digital therapeutic.
Sify: How unique is this app and do you have plans to launch more such apps?
Dr. Mattoo: There have been several digital intervention related use-cases. The US FDA was one among the first to recognize importance of digital and accordingly implement such an app. Then, there were insulin intervention measures. There has been a similar program in Singapore which later branched across Asia. For the record, Iran has a digital service for treating Alzheimer.
Besides Diabetes, we are also looking at a coach for hypertension, respiratory, cardiac and cardio metabolic related interventions. Besides, we have entered into a strategic partnership with Cipla to aid their offerings in Diabetes. With this, we should be able to combine, demonstrate and improve patient outcomes even further.