HealthyMation offers Joslin's diabetes prevention program with a gameified twist

By Heather Mack
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While the experts at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center have been happy with the results of their clinically-validated diabetes prevention program, they wanted to reach a larger population. Enter HealthyMation, a new healthcare animation studio that builds on the success of the brick-and-mortar program to deliver the company's first digital product: an app version of their popular DPP. 

Dr. Osama Hamdy, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin, assembled a team of digital health professionals, animators and video game developers to launch HealthyMation. The company launched last month but just recently opened up their first product to beta users: an app based on the clinic’s long-running DPP called the Weight Achievement and Intensive Treatment, or WhyWAIT?

WhyWAIT has been tested in clinical research and has been shown to have several advantages. Participants lose an average of 10 percent of their initial weight (an average of 23 to 24 pounds) and 3.5 inches from their waistlines, and have been keeping the weight off for at least six months.

“We have been doing the program almost 11 years, with groups of 10 to 15 people at a time, but I wondered, ‘how can we translate this into a larger program?” Hamdy told MobiHealthNews in an interview. “This is the longest and most evidence-based program in clinical practices, but the problem is how to scale. I wrote a book about the program, and it came to my mind: Why not have it in application format?”

Once the app idea hatched, Hamdy said he wanted to come in with new and “disruptive” ideas. One of his patients was a former Warner Brothers employee, and he knew several other people who had worked in animation, and Hamdy went to work building up HealthyMation team that now includes two former WB executives. Prior to the launch, HealthyMation acquired digital nutrition coaching company NuPlanit and its CEO Alaina Adams, who now serves as CEO of HealthyMation.

The WhyWAIT app features an avatar who acts as a coach to guide people through their individualized DPP, offering nutritional and exercise coaching that is built on NuPlanit’s proprietary principles of phenotyping, nutrition and behavior science and machine learning. The app can sync data from wearables, and as more users choose to use the app, it will get smarter and be able to translate actionable advice in real time.

“We really leveraged what works in other industries that are non-traditional to healthcare, because the really challenging thing is figuring out how to keep people engaged,” HealthyMation CEO Alaina Adams told MobiHealthNews in an interview. “With an AI-powered animated avatar using a very sophisticated metric, layered with fun and entertainment on top of an evidence-based program, we have a platform we feel is very robust.”

The app is now available to WhyWAIT participants, who can sign up to try the app out in beta until early 2017. HealthyMation hopes to get about 1,000 people to try it as they work to get the app recognized by the CDC and prepare for the official demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2017.