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Health Tech behaviour change company, Changing Health

Ashley Duque Kienzle. I’m the Chief Product Officer at Changing Health

Can you introduce yourself and tell me about the role you play at changing health?

I’m Ashley Duque Kienzle. I’m the Chief Product Officer at Changing Health. We’re a health tech behaviour change company. We’re helping folks who are struggling with different chronic conditions. And to change their behaviour to potentially no longer live with those chronic conditions and live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

I have been in health tech a couple of times now. I actually started studying behavioural biology and did a masters focusing on behaviour change; and I did a lot of different things, before moving into health tech.

Can you tell us a bit about changing health, how it started and its aim?

Changing Health started as a spin out of Newcastle University. Mike Trenell, who is now our CEO, led a study to understand how people can manage their diabetes better. He realised there wasn’t a digital solution out there to help people so he got some folks together to start Changing Health and build the solution.

Millions of folks suffer from diabetes in the UK alone, globally, even more. The number continues to grow, and people are actually getting diabetes earlier. We know that conditions like diabetes, various heart conditions, weight and other things can be managed with behaviour change. But behaviour change is really hard!

So, they decided that they would start up a tech company and app to digitise the content from the study that they knew needed to be presented to folks in order to help change their behaviour. That was about 5 years ago. Our current CEO, who was one of the co-founders, came on a little over a year ago. He has an extensive medical background, has a PhD and tons and tons of experience in helping people manage diabetes. He knew from experience that this product was needed.

Can you tell us more about the technology you use?

It focuses on helping people through personalised journeys. For instance, “Pam” 62, from Leeds, she works part-time and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Where does she turn? She’s tried to manage things in the past, maybe tried to lose weight but it just hasn’t worked for her. This (the app) allows her to educate herself on her condition and to manage it giving her agency. It also helps her set goals or be reminded of activities that will help her to manage her condition and then if possible, move into remission.

Most of the companies in this space are high cost, and highly dependent on individual coaches or dieticians, helping people; which is really not scalable or sustainable. Often the behaviour change that will come with it, is not sustained.

Unique and exciting position

We’re in a really unique and exciting position where we have the right team, the right infrastructure, and the right data to be able to develop programmes that are tailored to the individuals. “Pam” would get a recommendation that’s relevant to her life. When she’s working, she’s reminded to take a walk on her break, when she’s with the grand kids she’s reminded to drink water. Before she goes to bed, she’s reminded of the breathing to help her to fall asleep. So, we’re really helping the whole person instead of just the condition. Most of the programmes out there are one size fits all and behaviour change doesn’t work in one size fits all.

They can get notification in the app, emails, text messages and WhatsApp is on the roadmap as well. It’s really what is the best way for them to be communicated to in the right way in the right tone; and is the right motivation for them.

We’re in the process of brining on an exceptional CTO to join the team who has a great health background, but also AI and ML knowledge. We’re adding features but also different models to help drive health outcomes. As we develop, we will really focus on the persona and the user so we’re treating the individual, not the condition.

How does a user begin their journey with you?

We’re active in the UK as well as the Netherlands so it depends on the provider. In the Netherlands, it’s through a health insurer, in the UK it’s through the NHS. We have a contract for up to 600,000 users within the UK to come through our programme. They may go to their GP, and their GP may refer them or they may actually find the programme themselves online.

There is actually a campaign on Facebook for folks who may need additional education on, or just help managing their condition. People can self-refer through the Facebook ad.

What are the challenges you’re facing in the industry at the moment?

Regulation is really murky right now. Whenever you are on the cutting edge of an industry, using AI for behaviour change, devices etc, you are helping the government and policy makers grow with you.

We’re really blessed, that Mike our CEO, advises on a couple of the boards within the UK that are looking at this. There is a lot of opportunity to help develop those policies, but its an unknown space.

With Brexit and data regulations changing, we have to be really knowledgeable around what are the implications of those and of course privacy as well. We’re completely committed to data security, data privacy as well as ethics in AI. That’s something I’m incredibly passionate about. But with the changes in data regulations, we have to make sure we have our pulse on those and are complying. Building as much as we can to comply going forwards and then of course adapting as soon as we know of any changes.

Are there any development plans for changing health in the future? Any other service you want to provide?

It will be an expansion of behaviour change personalization to help users achieve health outcomes. One of the reasons why I studied it, and why I find it so fascinating is that everyone’s lives and aspects of life are always changing for the good or bad. We have to change even as society changes. Like with COVID, how many of us thought 2 years ago that we would have to adapt to wearing a mask? There are always behaviours that need to change as society changes and the globe changes. Behaviour change won’t go away.

As we think about cracking behaviour change, and really being able to help folks over some of those hurdles; we’ll expand into the areas where we can drive outcomes. We’re starting with our larger chronic conditions; obesity, heart disease, helping folk who have or have had cancer. But then we will be thinking of helping the ‘less common’ illnesses that can also benefit from behaviour change.

What do you think is the future of digital healthcare?

Personalisation definitely. The more and more information and the more data we have, not only horizontally across the population, but vertically about ourselves; the more we have access to knowing about our gnome; the data around our behaviour day to day. The more and more we can tailor in a positive way to help with behaviour change, but also in treatments.

If you happen to get a disease, how do we treat that in a pharmaceutical way, with the right drugs, but also with the right behaviours, the right interventions at the right time for you as an individual?

Medicine, Data and Technology

Care used to be personalised from a doctor to patient. They lived in the same town or village, there was one central healer. It was personalised (not maybe always based on science at the time!) but it was personalised because they knew you, they knew your history. Then we went so far away from personalisation – not the doctor’s fault. But now we are going back to having so much data and so many options that it makes it more effective to create drugs or other interventions that are specific to the individual. We’re going to a place where we can really treat the individual.

Medicine has been one of the later adopters to technology. Understandably, because of all of the implications and bureaucracy and because of the risks. When you think of industries to disrupt, ones that are costly, ones that have a lot of policy around them are a lot more challenging. At Changing Health, we’re working to disrupt healthcare with personalized behavior change.

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