Fredrik Debong on de-sucking healthcare experiences with data
FREDRIK DEBONG is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of mySugr, the world’s most popular diabetes app which was acquired by Roche in 2017. Before that, he cofounded pioneers.io, which got acquired by Startup300 in 2018. With his new venture HI.HEALTH he is continuing to de-suck healthcare experiences with data-driven experiences.
You famously co-founded mySugr to ease the daily grind of diabetes, and make diabetes “suck less“. How exactly did you go about improving the experience of diabetes care?
I love how you put it – “the grind” – that is exactly what it’s like to live with this disease and constant therapy. On a normal day, we think about our diabetes around 200 times – it’s not just the carbs we count, the calculations we make and the shots we take, it’s the constant worry in the back of your head.
We started adding game-like elements and feedback loops to the app, to help our users distance themselves from the eternal negative nagging, to stay motivated without going crazy. Then we connected blood glucose testing devices so that this vital data point got “passively” logged. Adding the context and decisions you make, helped you keep track of things and make better decisions in day-to-day life.
But things got really interesting as we added data-driven coaching by diabetes educators. This further offloaded our users’ minds – so that they could focus on their lives and not their diabetes. By also bundling the test strips into the package, we were ready for the big leagues. Insurance started covering the service, thus making it available for free to millions.
Early on you implemented data-driven models to empower people with diabetes. What can other digital startups learn from mySugrs approach of leveraging data for digital therapies?
One of the bigger lessons learned on my end is that often the simple things we can do have the most impact. It’s far easier to have a massive impact by offering a system that merely indicates something, that giving you a detailed 100% accurate prediction. We engineers and R&D people often overthink and overdo things.
With your new venture hi.health you are de-sucking the experience of private health insurance. How does data help you here?
We launched the hi app beginning of 2020 and now help over 25.000 people with their health expenses, payments, and filings with their health insurance. One can see it as a fintech integrated with nearly all insurances. But quite a common request by our users was also about what else you can use on your insurance. When you submit a receipt from purchasing diabetes medication, you can also ask us to keep an eye on this field for you – and so, when we see news in this field, we’ll reach out.
Our new product, a checkout service for merchants with an online interface, like an app or webshop, in the end, should remove the need for the end-user to pay. Our focus on finding partners depends very much on what our users want help with – glasses, glucose sensors, pharmacies, … let’s see where people need more assistance.
What other fields in healthcare suck and need to be disrupted by data-driven experiences?
I wouldn’t be able to limit the fields of healthcare that can gain something from a data-driven, personalized method of delivery.
Being involved in healthcare innovation for 15 years and having spent some 40 years as a heavy customer, I’ve come to an understanding: The hurdles to accessing fitting healthcare solutions and services are often artificial, they are all something we can work on. The financial burden, the structure of the delivery, the lack of understanding of what you live with – these are all aspects where technology and data can help.
Looking into the future: What game-changing technology will lead to the ultimate transformation of healthcare into a data-driven industry?
I wish it were that simple! Healthcare is such a broad term and has SO many facets to it, it is hard to answer with a single technology.
I believe that a push towards a secure, dependable way of sharing data between all stakeholders, a way to make use of it in the day to day work of all involved parties – be they patients, healthcare professionals, insurances, manufacturers, and policymakers – would have a huge impact. With this, decisions of all parties could become based on proofs and facts, and not beliefs and opinions.