Last week we shared 12 new companies unveiling their innovative ideas at Health 2.0’s Launch! event this year. Back in the exhibit hall, a few more early stage businesses were also leveraging Health 2.0 to kickoff new programs and technologies. One of these was the official launch of Ria Health‘s mobile app solution to help people reduce their drinking through a combination of support from addiction specialists and daily progress tracking. The company began testing the product earlier this year and, having seen great initial outcomes, is now making the technology available to consumers seeking a new approach to reduce drinking.
One of the original clinical founders and now Chief Medical Officer of Ria Health, Dr. John Mendelson, is quoted as saying that, “Leading researchers have developed safe and effective treatments for alcohol abuse, but these treatments have not been adopted. As an internationally recognized addiction specialist and researcher my team and I created Ria Health to bring these treatments to everyone.”
The announcement also highlighted the addition of Tom Nix, former advisor, to the core Ria Health team as Chief Executive Officer. While continuing the company’s goal of realizing an engaging member experience, Tom’s role will also focus on the development of strategic channel partnerships within corporate HR, health systems, and the physician community. Commenting on this opportunity for enterprise growth, Tom believes that, “Ria Health can help employers offer confidential, effective care to their employees with measured outcomes that are positive and affordable and a convenient program that can be used in the comfort and privacy of their own home.” While at Health 2.0, Medgadget had a chance to connect with Tom to learn more.
Medgadget: Where did the idea behind Ria Health come from?
Tom Nix: Our head of technology, and my brother, Bob Nix, spent nine years building one of the biggest technology platforms in healthcare at athenahealth. While transitioning out of that role, he came across Dr. John Mendelson, who was doing work in the addiction space. Bob was convinced in the efficacy of Dr. Mendelson’s work and the numerous FDA studies that showed the benefits of addiction-related education. As he started looking for an initial use case, Bob began to think about the challenges and impact of drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that about 34 million people in the United States suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder With an opportunity to address what could effectively be described as a chronic illness, he felt it would be an important need that a new solution could be brought to market to address.
Medgadget: What are the challenges of traditional solutions to managing drinking?
Tom: Solutions have been tried before but they are often standalone medical, social, or technology-driven approaches. Traditional treatment is typically rehab or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These are two great options, but they don’t always fit what the individual needs. Residential rehab lasts 28 days which can be very disruptive to daily life since you have to really focus and disconnect for the duration of the program. AA is a strong alternative but there are people we have spoken with who are not comfortable with the religious aspect of that group or the public situation they are put in despite being able to be “anonymous.”
Today, only 4% of individuals struggling with drinking opt for these types of programs. Clearly we need another solution. More recently, with the growth of digital health, app-only solutions have been in the mix. However, with an app-only method, you miss the opportunity to provide people with true, meaningful, objective measures while connecting them with a support network at the same time.
Medgadget: What does Ria Health do differently?
Tom: At Ria Health, we combine all multiple of these elements into one solution including certified telemedicine coaches, drink tracking and breathalyzer data, and a social capability to engage with a personal support network as part of the process. To give you a little more detail, our certified coaches work with members to setup strategies, plans, and goals to help reduce or stop drinking. A lot of people tend away from physician support since it can be very expensive. However, there is evidence to show that when a physician is engaged, individuals tackling drinking challenges are more likely to be engaged for a longer period of time than programs without this element. In practice, we do see that telemedicine sessions are actually very popular since, anecdotally, people are more willing to be clear in their problems and provide more detail about their needs when they feel like they are maintaining their privacy, dignity, and there is no shame or stigma that might be related to more traditional drinking programs.
Documenting the number of drinks and capturing breathalyzer data help to quantify how members are doing over time and provide metrics for progress towards each member’s goals. Users can invite anyone, like a family or friend, into a private social network to participate in their journey towards controlling their drinking habit. The social capability derives, in part from what AA was achieving when they began in the 1903s. While we have the capability to allow member-to-member socialization, we need to be careful in understanding if this is something our members want or if focusing interactions between the member, their coach, and their private social network is as far as we should go.
The combination of all these features results in members dramatically reducing their drinking and sustaining their involvement in the program over time. Today, we have 4 patents pending around our approach and processes.
Medgadget: You mention tracking progress. Do users eventually graduate from the program or transition into using Ria in a different way as they achieve their objectives?
Tom: Most behavior change for people managing their drinking takes place within 12 months. As part of the initial ramp up, members define their success criteria. For other programs out there, the goal is often abstinence. Something to be clear about here is that at Ria Health, we are not asking for abstinence. Members are encouraged to set their own, personal goals and objectives which can be anywhere in the range of cutting back to stopping drinking altogether. Members’ motivations to cut back on drinking also influence their goals and can include losing weight, better sleep, and having better relationships. These are all side effects of drinking less frequently and are important for the member to recognize when determining what they are looking to get out of the program.
Some people hit their success criteria sooner than others but all have opportunities to continue maintaining that success or taking the program even further beyond their initial goals. So we have graduates who achieve their objectives and complete the program. We also have members who use Ria Health as a maintenance program once they achieve their goals by continuing to track their activity and engaging in the social networking part of the technology to keep themselves accountable.
Medgadget: Ria Health is officially launching today for consumers.
Tom: We intentionally launched with a direct-to-consumer model which, to our pleasant surprise, meant that we were able to quickly begin growing our member base and immediately begin helping a bunch of people. We did this under the radar, before this official launch, earlier this year in January. The benefit of this strategy is that our initial members have been providing insights into how they use the system which helps us enhance the user experience to better improve our technology. Rather than waiting for a B2B pilot, this approach allowed us to get data from users faster. Already, we’re seeing an average of 30 interactions per member per month and have documented over 16,000 member interactions to date with an expectation of doubling that to over 30,000 within the next 30 days. The amount of data we are mining and utilizing to improve the technology will be far greater than any competitor coming into this space. As we begin to build out our enterprise relationships, we will be able to sit down with health systems and providers and show real, meaningful outcomes from actual members.
Medgadget: From your initial set of data, what have you learned about your members and have you begun to realize any of those outcomes you mentioned?
Tom: Right now, our membership is about 60% women and 40% men with an average age of 45 years. What is really exciting though is that our initial cohort of test members decreased their alcohol consumption. I can actually show you a graph of our consumption over time data from members of Ria Health [see below]. Coming up, we’re planning to show more data, leveraging our user data and existing cost savings analyses from other drinking reduction programs, on how helping our members reduce drinking also generates an important return on investment for employers and other healthcare organizations who we’re excited to begin working with to address this critical need.
Link: Ria Health…