TheBigPicture provides actionable, gamified steps to taking care of yourself
Not having control of our own health records has long been one of those quirks of the American healthcare system that we all just had to get used to. Like many of life’s little absurdities, it provided the fodder for a classic “Seinfeld” episode. If all health app TheBigPicture provided was easy access to our own electronic health records, that alone would make it worth a download.
“We want to make it as commonplace as having a Netflix or an Amazon Prime account,” co-founder Cabral Sylvester told BOSS.
But that’s just one aspect of what “the Duolingo of healthcare,” as Sylvester calls it, provides. TheBigPicture features a wellness dashboard built around 12 core metrics to help users stay on top of their health and make the small changes necessary to prevent big problems. Its food dashboard helps users streamline their diets to get those metrics back into the green should they slip.
“What Duolingo has done is that they’ve gamified their user experience to a point where learning a new language actually becomes fun,” Sylvester said. “And so we’re trying to accomplish that as it relates to healthcare, electronic health, record keeping, chronic disease management and prevention.”
Combatting Chronic Disease
The reason Sylvester and co-founder Daniel Chartock chose the 12 metrics they did (glucose, blood pressure, blood counts, BMI, cotinine, cholesterol, iron, inflammation, liver function, kidney function, waist circumference and Vitamin D) is that they are the primary indicators of chronic disease.
Chronic diseases account for 90% of U.S. healthcare costs, about $3.5 trillion annually. There are 150 million Americans with at least one chronic disease, and 30 million have five or more.
“If you’re really going to transform healthcare or have an impact on a broad population, then you really have to address these metrics because these metrics are responsible for a disproportionate amount of healthcare costs,” Sylvester said. “That’s our differentiator.”
Fitness trackers focus on a specific set of data points. They can measure your heart rate or track your R.E.M. sleep, but they track a finite set. Diabetics, for example, have been waiting for years for a fitness tracker that can measure blood sugar and eliminate the need for finger pricks.
The idea behind TheBigPicture was to use vital data points to recognize patterns and provide predictive analytics users can incorporate into their daily lives. Making it simple, straightforward, and actionable was the goal for Chartock and Sylvester, whose physician sister provided subject matter expertise for the app.
How health literate would you say you are? Enough to ask relevant questions of your doctor when discussing your conditions? Enough to use and understand health monitors on your own? Center for Health Care Strategies research shows that 36% of American adults, 90 million people, have basic or low health literacy. This accounts for more than 10 million hospital admissions annually at an average cost of $1,000 per visit.
“Add that all up, that’s an additional $12.6 billion annually just based on hospital admissions related to low health literacy,” Sylvester said. “Our whole mission is to fundamentally transform healthcare by dramatically improving the world’s collective health literacy.”
We need to become more in tune with the key drivers of our health, Chartock said, and health literacy is paramount to better understanding our bodies and taking better care of ourselves. Making medicine more proactive than reactive will drive down costs for patients, insurers, and healthcare facilities.
“People do all sorts of things to be healthy, right? I know someone who doesn’t eat shellfish, but they eat scallops, right? So people do all kinds of things to be healthy, but it’s arbitrary. You know, it’s a little of this. It’s a little of that. But with TheBigPicture, it’s very precise. You know where you’re at. You know what your metrics are, you know what you need to improve,” Sylvester said.
In the app, users can track vaccines and routine screenings, easily looking up when they last had a routine checkup or when they need to schedule things like mammograms and colonoscopies. And with precise data, patients and doctors are better able to construct a health story that enables doctors to make better decisions targeted to the specific patient.
“So you don’t just go to your doctor and say, ‘I’ve been coughing for the last two days and I think I have a fever,’ Chartock said. “It’s, ‘I’ve been coughing for the last three days, and I’ve had a fever for the last two, and my blood pressure is a little high.’”
Patients keep track of important information they might normally overlook, and that leads to better outcomes.
With TheBigPicture’s food dashboard, users can add what they’re eating from a menu, scan the barcode, or upload a photo of their meal. With the latter option, the AI integrated into the platform breaks the food down into the nutritional values of its components.
Sometimes people can deceive themselves into thinking they’re eating a healthier meal than they really are.
“’Hey, I’m eating chicken Parmesan. It’s good,’” Chartock said, “but they don’t realize that chicken Parmesan might have marinara sauce that’s made with an inordinate amount of salt, and that could actually act adversely to what they’re doing.”
Beyond that, there’s a function of the module that recommends foods based on which of the 12 core metrics a user might need to improve. The app uses FDA recommendations to place the metrics in green, yellow, and red zones.
“Those yellow and red metrics power the food dashboard to say, ‘You know, maybe you shouldn’t be eating chicken with broccoli from the Chinese restaurant because that’s high in sodium and you need to watch your sodium because of your blood pressure,’” and will suggest an alternative, Chartock said.
The Next Evolution
TheBigPicture’s 30-day challenge feature provides tips and encouragement to motivate users to stay on top of their health, and food dashboard users get a daily email breaking down their progress.
While the app has a consumer-first model, empowering users to access and take action on their health data, part of TheBigPicture’s road map is to offer health insurers a paid version of the app with access to user data – with consent from patients. That would enable insurers to analyze which policyholders are being proactive with their health and to better underwrite risk.
Of the 35 metrics TheBigPicture can track, 21 don’t require bloodwork to get started.
“Some people go their entire lives and they never have a healthcare road map, and now they download this app and within one minute they have a healthcare road map. They have something that can guide them along their health journey for the rest of their lives,” Sylvester said. “We’re literally putting your health in your hands in an extremely empowering way that hasn’t existed to this point.”
That’s worth a download.