Devices & Diagnostics

The therapist you sleep with: Mhealth service to help change behavior in depressed patients

One North Carolina-based healthcare startup is on a mission to deliver depression treatment and results through women’s phones. Because many people take their smartphones everywhere–the bathroom, work, restaurants, even to bed–a tech person at Thrive 4-7 jokingly calls the mhealth service “the therapist you sleep with,” CEO Connie Mester said. The company plans to blend […]

One North Carolina-based healthcare startup is on a mission to deliver depression treatment and results through women’s phones. Because many people take their smartphones everywhere–the bathroom, work, restaurants, even to bed–a tech person at Thrive 4-7 jokingly calls the mhealth service “the therapist you sleep with,” CEO Connie Mester said. The company plans to blend behavorial psychology, gamification and prenative influential design in marketing and advertising to influence patients’ behavior.

The name Thrive 4-7 stems from the company mission: to help patients thrive in “all seven dimensions of health.”

While mhealth services have given healthcare a hard push in the right direction, Mester said actually achieving behavioral change is the next frontier. Meant for female patients with mild to moderate depression, the service would be used in addition to therapy.

“There’s tons of information that helps you learn, tons of knowledge you can acquire, right? . . . Then you can track: Track your mood, track this, track that and put it into a beautiful graph. But there’s nothing to teach you. . . new ways to think and new ways to behave,” she said.

The app, being built out now for mobile devices, is the way to have regular interactions with patients, at least several times a day. It’s this high frequency of interactions that contributes to healthy changes, Mester said. It learns quickly whether the patient responds to intrinsic or extrinsic reward, whether she’s more individual or group-minded and tailors the language and messages it shares with the patient to fit her personalized mindset. Plus, using the agenda-like feature, it can even push out those messages at moments that might be stress triggers throughout the day. If the patient chooses, she could share this information with her therapist.

But there’s a bigger game plan afoot: to weave together such an mhealth service with wearables and a mentoring/peer support program.

“You are depressed. So you’re sitting at home more, you’re sleeping more,” Mester said, noting isolation as one of the major reasons for depression. “If you have these wearables, they could track what kind of sleep you’re doing and lack of activity. . . . With that data fed in, the output (would be) promoting the person to get out and do different things–encouraged to even walk down to a mailbox and back or with a peer, friend or family member.”

That focus on mentors and peers is a key component of why Thrive 4-7 is focusing its first product line on women. For women, Mester said, support networks are generally used at a different level during times of stress than men. That, plus several other factors, led the team to believe an app targeted at women first–releasing an app targeted at men later–rather than catering toward a more general audience, would be more effective at influencing behavior. “It’s really got to be realistic.”

And don’t let all the pink fool you. While the app targets women and teens, the team, which has worked with major pharma and insurance companies on behavioral psychology and marketing in the past, knows each woman has different concerns.

“Certain things are dialed up for some women and down for others,” Mester said.

Because the FDA route for such a service is murky at best, Mester said the app could be commercialized as early as the end of 2014 if it’s fast-tracked. If not, it could add a serious sentence to this app (and others) getting to market, putting commercialization off for about a year.

Thrive 4-7’s business plan depends on the FDA’s path for the service. Most likely, the company would charge per patient per month for managed care groups, and make a global B2B contract for hospitals and employer groups. For managed care, the appeal would be disease management. Making the system part of discharge plans at hospitals could contribute to reduced readmissions, Mester said.

If it doesn’t need FDA clearance, it could be sold directly to the consumer as a subscription-based model.

Thrive 4-7 is seeking a $1.5 million Series A round to bring on the technology and design team full-time. The startup is working with Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to align with strategic partners and advisers.

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