| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 14 A group of ex-gaming
industry executives say they can use their design chops to solve
a major health challenge: Sick patients neglecting to take their
medication and costing employers and insurance providers
billions of dollars.
Jason Oberfest began thinking about applying game design
tricks to complex medical problems in 2011, while at mobile game
Oberfest built the app to engage users in their health, but
he maintained some of the most viral aspects of mobile games,
such as gifts, and a feature to see how friends are faring in
their treatment. The app also includes a drug database and sends
refill alerts to patients.
"Drug adherence may not be sexy, but it's a $300
billion-a-year problem," said Oberfest. An analysis in the
Annals of Internal Medicine found that Americans are failing to
comply with prescriptions and it is costing the U.S. health
system between $100 billion and $289 billion annually. The study
found that up to 50 percent of medications for chronic disease
are not taken as prescribed.
Mango Health has raised more than $8 million from prominent
investors, including Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon and
Zynga cofounder Mark Pincus.
From smart pill bottles to smartphone apps, entrepreneurs
have been experimenting for years with ways to motivate patients
to take their meds.
Vancouver, Canada's Ayogo Health draws tactics from game
design by using points as indications of progress. One of its
games, "Monster Manor", is targeted to children with diabetes.
Omri Shor, chief executive of MediSafe, an Israeli
medication management company, focuses on keeping patients on
track by making them accountable to family-members.
Oberfest expects to see a spike in health apps in the wake
of Apple Inc announcing its HealthKit service this
"No one has cracked the code -- yet," said Carla Brenner, a
former consultant for pharma companies such as Eli Lilly
and Gilead Sciences. But Brenner said drug companies
are optimistic about these new smartphone apps.
"Medication adherence is a big issue for pharma," she said.
For game makers, entering health care means navigating
privacy and regulatory requirements, as well as occasionally
conflicting demands of payers, providers and pharmaceutical
Moving forward, Oberfest will collaborate with drug makers,
but he is "cautious" to take their money. The company is
amassing information about health, but claims to meet the
standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act, meaning that personally identifiable health information
isn't shared with a covered entity, like a health provider.
Instead, Oberfest is reaching out to employers and hospitals
to potentially sell them custom or premium versions.
But while game-like health apps may work with women, who make
up the largest group of mobile gamers, and youth, Skip Fleshman,
a health investor at Asset Management Ventures, warned that they
may fail to reach a majority of other patients.
"I doubt this would be effective for people who can't afford
to take drugs or suffer from side effects," he said.
(Reporting by Christina Farr, Malathi Nayak; editing by Andrew