For Obesity Management To Work, It Must Be Proactive and Empathetic
By Yoni Nevo, CEO, Sweetch.
Obesity comes in many forms and for many reasons. Among the various options for treatment, different approaches work for different people. But no matter the approach, treatability and successful treatment are not the same. We all understand this, to a degree. We make New Year’s resolutions and try to commit to portion control, but sticking to our plans can be difficult. For people who suffer from obesity, it’s even more challenging.
People battling real obesity are especially prone to treatment regimen non-adherence. Those who take initiative to lose weight are examined, prescribed and advised many times over on a continuous basis – it can be exhausting and humiliating, and can sometimes feel futile.
In recent years, billions of dollars have been spent on human-dependent and AI-based solutions to help patients with chronic conditions, including obesity, manage their own health. However, lack of adherence to prescribed regimens – one of the biggest challenges in chronic disease management – prevents many tech-based solutions from serving the purpose they were created to serve.
More than any other reason, such technologies fail because they are missing a critical element – emotional understanding. If one cannot understand a person on an individual level and know what makes them tick, it is all the more difficult to acknowledge the emotional difficulty of weight control. This is why many tech solutions end up contributing to guilt and self-despair instead of hope and motivation. The resulting morbidity is measurable in both quality of life and millions of lives lost each year.
Unfortunately, patient nonadherence causes more than 100 thousand preventable deaths, and costs $100 billion in unnecessary medical costs per year in the United States alone. Half or more of chronic disease regimens are ignored or misapplied.
And all because that emotional element is missing.
Treatment Must Be Both Proactive and Empathetic
Patient non-adherence is too large of a problem for medical professionals to tackle on their own. While practitioners can show genuine empathy and do their best to remain in touch with patients between sessions, guidance is simply not continuous enough to ensure adherence. Once patients leave the clinic or hang up the phone from the call center, it’s too easy to prioritize work, parenting, socializing and relaxation over prescribed regimens.
AI has stepped in, but even technologically advanced and well-funded treatments have come up short. Certain products and services should be applauded for addressing the need to create proactivity in patients. They offer reminders, encouragements and informational updates. However, these products do not offer a human-like emotional “voice” and fail due to a perceived lack of empathy. While more scalable than human-dependent solutions, they often lack warmth and understanding.
Digital therapeutics (DTx) offer a powerful and accessible source for optimism, but in order to mitigate the obesity crisis, they must augment AI.
Emotional Intelligence – Adding a Human-like Touch to AI
Communication with patients who suffer from chronic conditions requires proper tone and timing in order to generate healthy behavior.
Emotional intelligence (EI) can be applied to digital interventions by providing contextual, personality and emotional triggers to support patients in making lifestyle changes and dietary choices that last. It bridges the collection and processing of raw data with empathetic insights. Combined with more conventional AI, EI enables hyper-personalized recommendations that automatically adjust to real-time context and daily routine. The result is a proactive dynamic based on empathy.
By combining data science and behavioral science, EI has the capacity to tailor treatment to individual desires and tendencies, making it a source of motivation rather than yet another overbearing source of guilt.
The Gateway to Behavioral Change
Mobile devices are the most direct point of access to patients’ routines, but most push notifications are too easy to ignore and may, counterproductively, curtail compliance to regimens. They fail to engage because of an impersonal touch that doesn’t consider the complexities of real life.
By combining AI and EI, hyper-personalized digital therapeutics can leverage mobile applications for improved patient adherence and obesity management, allowing us to finally understand when, where and how to best interact with patients to impact their behaviors and long-term health at scale.