The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Peter Ohnemus, founder and chief executive officer of Dacadoo, a company based in Switzerland that makes a health and fitness tracking app. Ohnemus discussed how Dacadoo supports the digital transformation of life and health insurance companies and helps users achieve and maintain healthy lifestyle habits.
Eline Chivot: Which gaps in the life and health insurance sector have led you to create Dacadoo?
Peter Ohnemus: At the end of 2009 I sold my fourth company, ASSET4, to Thomson Reuters. I had founded ASSET4 in 2003 to create a way to score the world’s largest companies on their sustainability—taking into consideration the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks of investing in a company. As you know, that has become a very popular thing in investing today. So in 2010, I decided to point the same concept at an even bigger problem—the global healthcare crisis, which has been and still is causing health plan costs to rise at unprecedented rates. My idea was to create a way to score human health with the goal of having a positive impact on the world. And that’s how Dacadoo got started. At first, I didn’t specifically have it in mind to target the life and health insurers. But after we started talking with all types of companies about a Health Score and the underlying science and technology, it became pretty clear that insurers were very excited and that they would benefit the most from having a way to score health and related risks.
Chivot: Dacadoo’s app provides a health score that aggregates health and fitness data in real-time. How did you use AI to build this solution?
Ohnemus: The first few years of Dacadoo were dedicated to creating the first-ever scientifically researched and validated Health Score. I was very fortunate to find a perfect partner for creating the Health Score—Dr. Laurence Jacobs, a professor in theoretical physics from MIT who had moved to Switzerland. He was working at the University of Zurich’s medical school (Laurence also is an MD), so he had the unique combination of being a scientist used to solving hard problems along with the medical background needed for the deep understanding of health. So, a few years and hundreds of millions of data points later, and using machine learning to stitch together hundreds of clinical studies, the “Dacadoo Health Score” was born. Today, Dacadoo’s patented Health Score is based on 300 million person-years of clinical and customer data and has been validated against large, independent data sets to ensure it is a highly accurate predictor of mortality and disease risks. The Health Score serves as the focal point of Dacadoo’s digital health platform. Artificial intelligence is used to make the data actionable by interpreting an individual’s health status and making specific recommendations for the health-based activities that will have the most relevant impact for each person. The Health Score uses 100 data points across holistic health—i.e., lifestyle, body, and mind elements, and is calculated in real-time within the Dacadoo app so users can see immediately how their own behaviors are affecting their health immediately.
Chivot: Could you walk me through how an individual user engages with your app and the community of users?
Ohnemus: Users normally interact with the Dacadoo app on a daily basis, and engagement is usually brief but highly informative. A typical day might include: a) checking one’s health score and getting feedback on why it went up or down; b) checking the status on a challenge they may have joined—there are normally several challenges running in most organizations. This is up to our customers, and can include individual or team challenges across many different types of activities; c) receiving an in-app message from the coach—either giving information, making a recommendation for a goal or article to read, asking a question, or providing a reminder; d) checking one’s points balance or cashing in points for a reward. Because of the simple, fun and relevant information, Dacadoo enjoys very high engagement numbers among its user base. The Dacadoo platform is compliant with HIPAA (the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and GDPR (the EU General Data Protection Regulation), thus built to protect individual users’ data privacy. Each user can choose how they want their data treated and can choose to share limited data only with their friends in Dacadoo, or everyone in the specific customer instance, or with no one. No user data is ever used by Dacadoo or any other entity for any sales or marketing purposes. All customer reports use only anonymized data.
Chivot: Your clients include life and health insurance companies. What are the problems that Dacadoo helps them solve? Can you give examples of the various ways in which they used your solutions successfully?
Ohnemus: On the one hand, life and health insurers have different needs for their health and wellness solutions: Life insurers need to engage their clients, create new products and innovate their antiquated underwriting processes, whereas health insurers need to create more efficient ways of identifying and treating medical conditions within their member populations. But at a higher level, they share the same problem: How to take full advantage of all the health data that is suddenly available thanks to over 300,000 health apps and IoT devices. This problem is complex because the devices, apps, care management programs, electronic medical records, etc., all operate in silos, as point solutions and independent programs—each generating disparate data. Dacadoo decided to focus on life and health insurers because this problem can only be solved by providing a platform-based solution, one that can connect with all types of data, interpret the data into actionable information, communicate it efficiently to individuals, and motivate them to act on it. We see this as a much harder problem to solve, with fewer possible solutions available, and one that Dacadoo’s combination of science and health is uniquely suited for.
Examples include a large health insurer that provides Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) services to its customers, where the utilization of this essential service is traditionally very low. By integrating EAP into the Dacadoo platform, Dacadoo’s automated coach can identify individuals that are experiencing issues with stress or emotional wellbeing and can send them a reminder about the EAP program along with a phone number they can call, thus driving up utilization. For life insurers, we now have customers that have launched full scale marketing campaigns to their clients and non-clients letting them know they care about their health and providing the white label app that allows an ongoing engagement. Surprising results included the large numbers of non-clients that have responded to this approach, thus driving considerable new client sales. Other life insurers have combined this with the use of the risk engine for use in innovating their client acquisition methods, resulting in higher levels of straight through processing.
Chivot: What are your future plans for Dacadoo? What is likely to shape the insurance industry in the future, and how will that further benefit companies and individuals?
Ohnemus: Dacadoo has a well-planned development roadmap of continuous innovation, including increased use of AI, voice, and advanced analytics—all with the goal of creating an increasingly more fun, relevant, and personalized user experience. We continue to add new morbidity predictions to our risk engine along with confidence intervals for imputed values, and “next-best question” guidance for underwriters. We are experiencing rapid growth for our platform and are busy expanding our teams around the world, as well as strategic partners to enable the increased demand for platform implementations. We are seeing large growth for the “backend” solution—where partners and integrators are using our platform as the hub upon which a highly integrated health and wellness solution can be created to bring all elements together in one place to integrate not only technologies, but also include caregivers and providers in the platform. For insurers, the future for digital health has to include a platform-based solution.
The final frontier of digital health has to be prevention. Beyond more efficient ways of diagnosing and treating medical conditions, preventing disease altogether will be the real game-changer for the global health crisis. It is estimated that 75 percent of the cost in the healthcare system today results from lifestyle diseases—i.e., conditions that can be prevented. But because that would require significant behavior change by millions of people, many doubt it can be achieved. However, if we look at how the world has rallied recently and changed their behavior in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, I believe it is possible. What we can learn from this is that people will change their behavior, not necessarily to protect themselves, but more to protect the welfare of those around them. That gives me real hope.