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Sweetch: The digital health coach in your pocket

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Sweetch

Sweetch is an adaptive AI platform for the prevention and management of chronic conditions. The app operates as a digital health coach, nudging the user to take small actions to improve their health.

Harnessing emotional intelligence, Sweetch asks the user to measure their weight, exercise or take their medication at the right time based on their habits and preferences.

Health Tech World spoke with Sweetch CEO Yoni Nevo to find out more.

Hi Yoni. What is the idea behind Sweetch?

Chronic conditions are usually a one way ticket. They can only get worse, unless you take care of yourself, take your medication, do physical exercise, visit appointments and so on. You need a trusted voice that will tap on your shoulder at the right time and utter the right words with the right intonation.

It’s not a good idea to remind you to take your medication if you’re driving. And if you need to weigh yourself on Tuesday, it’s a waste of time reminding you at 9am when you’re at work. It’s about asking: when is the right time? When and how should we engage?

My co-founder Dr. Yossi Bahagon is a physician. When he started as a practitioner, he would tell patients that there was evidence to show that if you do one hour and 15 minutes of physical activity, your health will be improved.

People would look at him and nod their heads, but nothing would happen. Then he tried something. He said, ‘visit me in two weeks again. And in the meantime, do just seven minutes of exercise.’

Of course, people found that very easy. He realised that taking tiny steps and not doing too many things at once was the right way to address a chronic condition.

How has this idea been incorporated into Sweetch?

We can give you a goal of 150 minutes straight away or we can set a goal that we think you’re going to achieve based on your persona.

Some people will get to 150 minutes after four weeks, some of them get there after 16 weeks. But they started at 60.

How you interact is also important.

Instead of saying, ‘remember that you have to do 10,000 steps today’, Sweetch might say, ‘we see that you’ve got an open hour in your calendar. Why don’t you go to your favourite coffee shop, grab a cup of coffee and come back. That’s an equivalent of 30 minutes.”

We can deliver that message at a time that you are open to accept the interaction. It’s based on your habits that we learned.

The important thing is that we keep on learning. Whenever we engage with you, we measure the outcome and then fine tune and adjust.

So it’s about incorporating it into your life so it doesn’t feel like you’re doing something separate.

Exactly. We call that real world context. If we see that you’re not doing any physical activity on a Monday at a time we tried before and it didn’t work, there’s no point in wasting additional interaction and trying to get you to do active physical activity on Monday.

One patient was sent on a walk around their favourite park and suggested that they take a friend, which is exactly what they were already planning on doing.

That’s the beauty of being there for the patient for a very long journey. Sweetch uses really tiny steps and tiny habits along the way to make sustainable behaviour changes.

Tell us about the research that underpins your AI and EI [emotional intelligence]

There is strong behavioural science around it. One of our team built us a solid foundation around behaviour right at the beginning.

We have around 30 different tones of voice for example, from being very assertive to being almost apologetic.

Yoni Nevo

Initially, we have to make an educated guess, based on the individual’s persona. We give you a recommendation, we see what happens. We can then adjust to increase the weight of the message depending on the response.

You need to speak using language that they understand. Language is also about culture. You need to have the right people on the linguistic side that will help you build that foundation.

Even though there are a lot of commonalities, there are differences between people based on the culture and the language itself. Personalised reinforced learning is part of the AI.

Can you tell us about your prediabetes clinical trial?

We are very proud to have partnered with Johns Hopkins for the initial case study.

We saw a statistically significant reduction in A1c of 23 per cent. People achieved this through physical activity and losing weight.

It’s about identifying the intrinsic motivation and triggering it at the right time with the right recommendation. And it works.

Johns Hopkins received a $3 million grant to compare what we do against human-based coaching to see which is more effective and cost-efficient.

There will always be the benefit of the human touch. Health coaches create trust, they are there for you, they can be very flexible, but they’re also costly, there is an operational burden and it just doesn’t scale.

Also, 99 per cent of the time, patients are on their own. So within this period, let’s try to make them healthier through adherence to medication, physical activity and weight management.

If they do what they’re supposed to do, they’ll be healthier and the physician or dietitian will get a lot of data.

We are not only talking about remote patient monitoring data but also about their behaviour. Are they adhering to the programme? Are they taking the medication? Or are they increasing their dosage?

We’ve spoken about patients. But our core customer segment is actually pharma and medical device companies. They need a trusted voice to interact and engage with patients.

If people don’t take your medication do whatever they need to do for the drug to work better, you’re not going to make any money and patients will not be healthier.

We believe that every drug and every medical device will have its own app. Think of Sweetch as a health coach in your pocket.

What can we expect from Sweetch for the remainder of 2022?

Expect more conditions. We started with early stage diabetes and now we’re looking at things like obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and we will go more and more into traditional conditions.

We already have support for some autoimmune conditions and eventually we will also be addressing oncology.

A person is a whole. They may have multiple conditions. So it’s not only about individual conditions, but also comorbidities, especially when people are older.

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