GlycoLeap: Your smart coach to self-manage diabetes

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Holmusk and its flagship product GlycoLeap

Holmusk is a digital health and data analytics start-up, founded in Singapore in early 2015. Holmusk’s vision is to transform the healthcare experience for people living with chronic disease, using technology and data science. They are building scalable, engaging and effective tools to improve the care and outcomes for people living with chronic disease, such as diabetes.

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Holmusk’s flagship product is GlycoLeap: a smart coach for people with Type 2 diabetes. GlycoLeap provides all the support one needs to achieve better health with less time. It combines expert human coaching with smart technology – all on your phone. It uses concepts from behavioural science to drive positive health outcomes for people with diabetes. Through small and sustainable lifestyle changes, users can achieve moderate weight loss and improve glucose control (as measured by HbA1c) within 6-months of the GlycoLeap program. Unlike many technology startups that are in the health and wellness space, GlycoLeap focuses on chronic disease – particularly diabetes. Getting people to change their lifestyles and lose weight requires a combination of several different discrete elements, which wouldn’t be effective enough on its own.

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User interface for the GlycoLeap mobile app

You are what you eat

Eating well is the foundation for good diabetes care. People with diabetes often have many questions around food and nutrition – what can I eat with diabetes, which foods are good to keep my blood sugar levels stable etc. As part of the program, users take photos of their meals using the mobile app. And through the mobile app, the users are connected with a real-life health coach (a qualified dietitian) who will rate their meals and provide daily feedback and support. This will promote accountability and help them develop good, sustainable eating habits over time.

Motivation to go the extra mile

Users receive a set of smart devices, including a wireless weighing scale, fitness tracker and glucometer, which inspire a new level of self-awareness about their health, and provide the coaches with 360-degree view on their behaviour so they can provide the right feedback. Users also receive weekly interactive lessons that provide practical tips on nutrition, exercise, monitoring, medications and stress management. These features help to upskill the users in self-managing diabetes. GlycoLeap learns from every new user that comes onboard and so it continually improves itself over time – in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness.

Driving GlycoLeap

GlycoLeap functions on several revenue models. Consumers and the general public can subscribe to the program directly through GlycoLeap website. They offer a neatly designed core program for the first six months followed by a maintenance program thereafter. Meanwhile, they are working to partner with employers, health insurers as well as healthcare providers (hospitals, clinics) to deliver the intervention to their affected populations. For example, an employer will be able to offer GlycoLeap as a health benefit for their high-risk employees. This leads to overall cost-savings for the employer in terms of medical costs, improved productivity and reduced absenteeism – a win-win-win situation for all. Right now, GlycoLeap is operational in Singapore. However, they’ve already been getting sign-ups and users from other parts of the world – particularly in India and the United States where diabetes is a major public health issue. They are expected to become widely available in the United States, Malaysia and Hong Kong by 2017.

In conversation with GlycoLeap’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Yau Teng Yan

When asked about future operations Dr Yau Teng Yan said, “We intend to expand our operations particularly to countries where diabetes and chronic disease are at worrying epidemic levels. It is a challenge we’re looking forward to, because every country has its unique healthcare ecosystem and cultural context around diabetes. From an economic perspective, it is important to look at who is footing the bill for treatment of the disease, and work with the right payers. For example: In countries like the US, insurance covers a large part of medical expenses, while in other countries like India, the patient often has to pay out-of-pocket. We are particularly excited about the data story behind this. We gather a variety of behavioural and engagement data on our platform, which is typically not available to the doctor in the clinic today. If we combine this data – the clinical and behavioural pieces – we’ll have a much deeper understanding about how our patients are doing on a daily basis, and be able to personalise treatment to their specific needs. We can do this by developing clinical decision-support tools that use predictive analytics”.

What is your opinion on the Asian healthcare start-up scene?

“The ecosystem for healthcare start-ups in Asia is still nascent. Healthcare is not as attractive an industry, unlike social networking or e-commerce. It is also very challenging – you have to grapple with regulatory and ethical issues. Product cycles are much longer, and you need to prove that your product is effective. Doctors and health professionals practice evidence-based medicine, which means that clinical validation is important for adoption of any healthcare product. Yet, it is also very meaningful because if you can overcome all these challenges to succeed, you not only build a sustainable business but also make a real difference in people’s lives.”

What has been the challenging part of developing GlycoLeap?

“Our app design was a vital component. In developing a health intervention for the consumer, it has to look good and more importantly, intuitive and easy to use. Consumers have high expectations of their apps and they take reference from well-designed apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Uber. So if your app doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of good design, no matter how many functions it has, people aren’t going to use it. Our earliest version of the app had a very minimalistic, modern-looking interface, but based on user feedback, we changed it to something a lot more personable and friendly. We’ve had several groups of patients use GlycoLeap over the past year, and it’s been heartening to see many of them improve their HbA1c levels and achieve a healthy weight over weeks to months. Some of our users have done so well that their doctors were able to cut down the amount of medications they were taking for diabetes, and needless to say they were ecstatic!”

What are the valuable lessons your team learnt overcoming those challenges?

“An important lesson is that we are social creatures at heart, and yearn to interact with other human beings. The earliest version of our app was a data tracking tool where you could track your results and see charts, graphs of your data. However we found that people did not want that. It was only after building in the 2-way messaging interface where you can interact with a real-life professional health coach, that people stuck around for a much longer time.

Let me give you an example. One of our users was eating irregularly and didn’t like vegetables when she first joined us. After a little prodding from our health coach through the app, she also shared that she had a poor relationship with her doctor and was fed up as the doctor deemed everything she did was ‘wrong’. At the beginning, her meals were full of carbohydrates and low in fibre. But over time, the accountability and the relationship she established with her health coach through our app led her to have more balanced meals and include more vegetables in her diet. She went to her doctor recently, and her HbA1c improvement far exceeded even our expectations. It shows how important the human relationship is, particularly in health. These stories keep us going every day, and give us the confidence that the approach we are taking not only works, but is desperately needed.”

More about Holmusk and the management team

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management team photo

Nawal Roy (third from left) is the founder and CEO of Holmusk. Prior to this, Nawal was Co-Founder and CEO of HelloPay (Rocket internet venture). Before leading HelloPay, Nawal was a Junior Partner leading the client advisory service line in McKinsey & Company. He has been deeply involved with serving clients across North American, Europe, South East Asia, India, China, Middle East and Africa.

Dr Yau Teng Yan (second from left) is the Chief Medical Officer at Holmusk, joining at the early beginnings of the company. He is a medical doctor in Singapore with 8 years of professional experience. He previously trained and practised in Diagnostic Radiology, before leaving full-time clinical practice at the hospital to join Holmusk.