Jane Wang is founder and CEO of Optimity, a popular wellness app, but she is a serial health tech entrepreneur, a university professor, and a cancer research fundraiser. She is involved in health in so many different ways because modern life works against healthy habits in so many ways, like the way a day of sitting in front of a screen leaves you too tired to take a walk in the evening.
Jane is passionate about proactive health programs, including improving morbidity and mortality in populations. Prior to Optimity, she created innovative new “FICO scores” for banks and healthcare organizations, and spent a decade leading teams in global clinical trials developing technologies for programs to maximize adherence and performing dynamic risk scoring for patients in North America, Asia, and the EU. We asked her about how technology, such as Optimity, can help people develop good health habits, and what the limits are to what tech can do in a society suffering from chronic lifestyle diseases.
Optimity describes itself as “a mission-driven technology company.” What’s the mission?
Our mission is to help our users to be happier and healthier by helping them to build good habits, using the key components to longevity (physical, nutritional, mental, social, and financial wellness).
Most adults lack active minutes and just movement in general. Many modern professionals habitually only get to move a couple of times a day for a walk or an errand – which ends up being only 2-3000 steps. We promote micro-activities that get people moving every hour- almost like work recess – because, similar to children, adults need time to move too, all throughout the day.
Financial wellness, mental health, and social connections are relatively new factors within the health spectrum, though it won’t surprise anyone to learn there are direct correlations between how long someone lives and their ability to afford and maintain care. Better financial habits mean better nutrition and health, with less stressful routines to improve life expectancy. Our purpose is to help our users to improve their lives as a whole.
The Optimity app is based on behavioral science and gamification. What is the science behind the app, and how does gamification figure into it?
At Optimity we’re tracking mental health (sleep, stress), financial and social-economic factors, plus alcohol consumption because these specific factors show strong correlations to living healthier and longer. More importantly, these elements affect our health and daily quality of life, however these are rarely considered in traditional scoring and in general.
Some longevity indicators remain tried and true: height, weight, body mass index, smoking history, current health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and family history of issues such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. But the best models use physical activity and movement as a key predictor, so our rewards and incentives in the Optimity app start with daily steps to promote physical activity and movement.
To do this we use game mechanics like achievements, leaderboards, and incentives to encourage users to reach milestones and build better habits. Optimity uses artificial intelligence to guide each individual toward their health goals and create social connections and solidarity between users/friends while providing relevant and timely rewards to further motivate individuals.
Users earn gems for completing tasks like walking or meditating, or by completing micro-learning quizzes. These gems can be redeemed for rewards including gas, groceries, health services, and gadgets, or donated to good causes such as breast cancer research.
Most adults know what a FICO score is, but you created innovative new “Credit scores” for banks and healthcare organizations. What are those scores?
We’ve created an estimated credit score for people based on their social connections and other lifestyle factors. We look at people’s online networks with Facebook or LinkedIn for social connections and use that to help them find personalized products or advice. That could be a health outcome or financial product best suited for their needs.
For a new immigrant, it analyzes their Facebook and LinkedIn network. It uses the information to build a social credit score that will enable them to tap into certain financial products. They might be connected to a lot of people here who are engineers. That would mean they are likely in the same socio-economic and educational class. It works like a pre-qualification for that person.
We take the person’s habit data, medical and medication history, and some lifestyle factors for healthcare. With this information, we compare them to other patients with similar backgrounds to put them down a track of care. This could mean they get more support or resources or more frequent check-ins. It’s a type of triage that helps ensure that patients get the support and care they need.
In the US, and throughout much of the world, the major causes of illness and death are poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, and various addictions. Are entrepreneurial solutions, such as the Optimity app, a sufficient response, or are systemic solutions needed also?
The Optimity app is a tool that takes a customer-interfacing delivery mechanism for change. But other partners need to be involved in making it effective. Insurance companies and governments can make systemic and architectural changes that will move the needle. We understand that it takes all players to create a healthy ecosystem. Optimity is the experience layer, but the healthcare & insurance product and regulatory & financial incentive layers need to modernize and incentivize all players (businesses & citizens) to make better choices.
It takes a village to create change. Our role is in the experience and technology and enabling the connections to be consumer-centric. But there are other roles, like the insurance products, that need to allow a tool to like us and reward through lower premium prices and the requirements in the system. The government or funding system needs to reward proactive health and wealth improvement instead of the reactive care system.