Health IT, Patient Engagement

Lark CEO on inserting compassion into artificial intelligence app for healthcare

A major tool in patient engagement is compassion, particularly when developing an artificial intelligence-based platform that coaches users into improving their healthcare choices, says Lark CEO Julia Hu.

When it comes to retaining users for health-driven applications, there’s a simple tool for success: “Remember customers deserve understanding, health and love, said Lark CEO Julia Hu during a talk at this week’s Exponential Medicine conference in San Diego.

Lark is a mobile health company that’s built out an artificial intelligence platform that serves as a personal nutritionist and weight loss coach – providing encouragement and tips with a humanized interface.

The company’s gotten some impressive accolades in the past year – including MacWorld labeling it the best new app for Apple Health. It’ll also come preinstalled in all Samsung phones.

Hu outlined four patient engagement strategies she’s learned in the past five years developing a successful mhealth app:

1. Understand your user

“This is an incredibly important part of society right now, because the internet of things has really been blowing up,” Hu said.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of wearable devices, but most important is the cell phone – which has wonderful, contextual sensors so that users are always with their data.

2. Gather as much personal, real-time data as you can 

Companies like Apple, Google and Validic are bringing data together in one place – so you don’t have to look at a siloed data stream. This gives so much more information about a user, Hu said. There will be a multitude of ways to harness the most subtle metrics in the near future.

3. Coaching

We’ll soon go beyond quantifiable self to coaching, Hu said. Real, actionable, personalized input.

“You don’t need to be managing your own health,” Hu said. “That’s not your job.”

We have financial analysts and investors that help us manage our portfolios, she said, as an example. She mentioned that users that text with Lark for three minutes a day are 23 percent more active.

“Why not have an AI that talks to you, coaching you throughout the day?” Hu said. “Through coaching we can see an incredible amount of efficacy.”

4. Add love

Wearables and coaching products tend to get shelved after users get tired of the shiny new gadgets after a few months. When it comes to personal motivation, the best form comes from an involved family member or a friend – someone that provides a very human support system.

“What we’ve found is that behavior change, and a systematic way to provide love and empathy and connection was truly important in creating AI,” Hu said.

Working with thought leaders in positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy and compassion, the company was able to “infuse that sense of humanity into the AI chat,” Hu said. “And that’s when we finally made the connection.”

Users call the Lark app similar to a cheerleader, or a friend, or “the ideal wife,” Hu said. “They showed that AI can move toward compassion, and something that feels like a human.”

Lark coaches and users have exchanged morethan 350 million text messages, which is the equivalent, Hu said, of 25, 402 nurses and therapists working full time to manage chronic disease patients.

5. Convergence of mobile, AI and IOT

Hu said that right now, there’s a real transformation going on. Apps used to be just like wearables – a one silo device.

“I think we’re going to start seeing many more products that are apps as a service – the portal between two groups transacting services,” she said. “I think healthcare is going in this way.”

Creating population health as a digital service is the next future we’ll see, Hu said – citing companies like Omada, Joyable, Lumosity and Livongo.