The obesity epidemic is a massive challenge for our healthcare system and for quality of life in society. Especially in western and developed nations, average BMI has gone up over the past century and the incidence of many co-morbidities like diabetes and heart disease has skyrocketed in tandem.
Diet and exercise are key pieces of the puzzle to managing weight, preventing the onset of chronic conditions like diabetes, and negating the need for medical interventions or drugs. It doesn’t take an MD-PhD from Harvard to know that eating less and moving more can help lower weight and improve blood sugar over time. For decades, nutritionists have recommended diet plans and food journals to help patients achieve these goals; NIH meta-research has found that diligent, accurate calorie and activity tracking correlates strongly with higher weight loss (Burke).
However, follow-through with pen-and-paper self-monitoring programs is notoriously low. One 2009 study found the median level of “caloric self-monitoring” adherence was only 55% for patients using a paper diary. Studies also indicate that adherence / self-reporting levels only drop over time as patients lose motivation to stick with their food diaries (Burke).
Creating value through AI-powered personalization
Here’s where Yes Health comes in.
Yes Health is a smartphone app for diabetes patients that helps track intake and activity, provides in-the-moment health recommendations, and equips doctors with valuable data to better inform treatment decisions. Founded by a PayPal alum and $6M in Series A venture backing, Yes Health is poised to transform diabetes management.
- AI-powered tracking: Yes Health uses computer vision to help patients track their caloric and macronutrient intake more easily and accurately, simply by taking pictures of meals. No more googling “how many calories are in a bowl of Frosted Flakes”. Yes Health claims it can estimate the calories and suitability of portion size, simply with a picture. (Included in the most popular annual “Diabetes Management” membership plan is a free FitBit activity tracker and digital scale, so tracking fitness and weight is also streamlined.)
- AI-powered coaching: The app delivers timely, actionable, hyper-personalized recommendations using insights gleaned from its longitudinal data on users as well as expert recommendations from actual dieticians / personal trainers employed by the company. Since Yes Health’s founding in 2015, the app has been able to reduce reliance on these human coaches and shift more of the recommendation/ advice work to its AI models. Imagine immediately knowing if your bowl of Frosted Flakes is much larger than the recommended portion size, before you eat it. This gives patients better information and improves their likelihood of acting on diet tips, without needing expensive healthcare professionals to provide those tips after the fact.
- Connectedness with care team: In addition, Yes Health is set up to share user data and recommendations with the patient’s doctor, if permission is granted. This allows PCPs and healthcare teams to see what’s working and what’s not in a given treatment plan. As we’ve learned, the powerful combination of AI-generated insight and expert human judgment/intuition can lead to breakthrough outcomes.
The proof is in the (low-fat) pudding
How has Yes Health done so far? According to the company, “Members on average lose more than five percent of their starting weight, regularly exercise more than 150 minutes per week and increase their nutrition scores to “healthy” within 13 weeks.” For this reason, Yes Health boasts partnerships with payers like Blue Health California (an HMO plan purveyor), providers like the Diabetes Center at UCSF, and endorsers like the CDC and the American Diabetes Association.
Yes Health benefits from a clear data flywheel effect. The more photos Yes Health sees, the more outcomes it measures, the more advice it gives – the better its predictive power becomes as the cloud-based AI learns. As its user base grows, the team hopes it will create more and more value for members.
Capturing value via third-party payers
While patients obviously stand to gain the most from improved health outcomes, it’s actually third-party health insurers that have the largest financial skin in the game. Lifetime healthcare costs for a diagnosed diabetes patient is 2.3x higher than the average American, and insurers .
Its track record of measurable success has allowed Yes Health to bill through health insurers, rather than billing consumer directly (although that is an option if users wish to sign up). This is a brilliant system, because it places the cost burden on the party who’s most likely to make the upfront investment to save healthcare costs down the line.
Burke, Lora E, et al. “Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: a Systematic Review of the Literature.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268700/.
Shieber, Jonathan. “Using AI, Yes Health Cuts Costs, Improves Adherence for Weight Loss and Diabetes Treatment.” TechCrunch, 15 Apr. 2020, techcrunch.com/2020/04/15/using-ai-yes-health-cuts-costs-improves-adherence-for-weight-loss-and-diabetes-treatment/.
Wilhelm, Alex. “Why AI Startups’ Economics Will Likely Improve over Time.” TechCrunch, 6 Apr. 2020, techcrunch.com/2020/04/06/why-ai-startups-economics-will-likely-improve-over-time/.