What if healthcare systems were actually based around paying a premium for how healthy you are? With the overwhelming speed of analytics development, that may not be such a far-flung dream anymore.
Vishal Gondal, known as the “gaming king” of India and CEO of GOQii, launched his startup in 2014. The idea was to transform the way wearable health devices use the data they collect, turning a passive bracelet into a gaming platform. GOQii is similar to devices like Fit Bit, tracking various health statistics, but unlike Fit Bit, GOQii can then transfer that data to real doctors and health trainers to provide you with personalized healthcare advice.
The simple design of the GOQii bracelet
Since it’s launch, GOQii has garnered a huge following in Gondal’s native India, and he hopes it will take the rest of the world by storm, radically changing the way people view healthcare. We met with Mr. Gondal at Slush Tokyo 2018 to discuss GOQii and his views on healthcare as a gaming space.
Can you explain a bit about what GOQii is?
GOQii actually is what we call a complete health and fitness tool. It combines various elements. We do give each user a free tracker, but the biggest use of GOQii is access to health coaches, doctors, and all the various people we have in the health industry who will motivate you and push you to become healthy.
So the idea behind GOQii is–while everybody has health apps and everybody has bought a FitBit or Apple Watch–the reality is none of them actually end up using it. The missing link in the health care problem is motivation. We are combining technology, using stuff like social media to motivate people to be healthy. So GOQii is the next generation of healthcare.
How have people been reacting to it?
When we launched in 2014, people said it was completely crazy, because it’s a subscription model, and we were trying to compete in a market where people were used to either free apps or buying hardware. However, since 2014 until now, we are pretty much the market leader in India when it comes to wearables. Even though we do not sell a wearable, what we sell is the subscription service.
Vishal Gondal speaks about GOQii and gaming for health
But the biggest breakthrough has actually come with GOQii being integrated into the health insurance space. We have announced our tie up with Swiss Re, which is one of the leading 3 insurers, and Max Bupa, which is the big insurance company. Now, based on the data we collect on GOQii, you as a customer can go to the insurance company and say, “Hey, I’m healthier. I should be paying the lower premium.” So we are literally figuring out how can we relate your data and how you can be healthy to actually benefitting you financially. It’s going to a completely different level.
You’re from a gaming background and developed GOQii from a gaming sense, so how does the game side of GOQii work?
You know, the biggest problem once again with most of the health apps is that they lack engagement. They’re boring. Even though they have the best technology on the backend, on the front end, it’s absolutely a crazy-boring experience. My background is gaming where we knew how to make something exciting, how to make something addictive. So we used the same mechanics of gaming on GOQii. For example, our users are not called patients or customers. They’re called players, because they’re playing a game.
Our belief is the world needs more playgrounds and not hospitals.
Every time they are being healthier, we give them what is called karma points. And karma points are their currency to do good. They can use it to support charities. Recently, we introduced something called GOQii Cash, which you earn by doing healthy activities and you can spend this cash on buying health food, health products, and a whole host of health services.
In short, I think the best example I give is Pokemon Go. That one app was responsible for making more people active than all the health apps in the world combined. With just one simple idea.
GOQii in app screens
Imagine if the entire healthcare system is geared to make you engaged and make you entertained at the same time, and that’s what I did with GOQii. When we started with this whole idea people said, “It’s crazy. It’s not gonna work.” But today we have some of the highest usage of our content, because it has been designed and implemented like a game. And we are running it pretty much like a gaming company and not a healthcare company.
How important do you think the development of GOQii is as people become more and more connected to devices and computers?
The problem is that there are many devices, there are many apps, but most of the data these devices are generating is noise. Most people don’t know what to do with it. Especially when it comes to health, you need an expert to tell you what to do specifically for you. It cannot be the one-size-fits-all model.
What we are doing is taking data from devices, apps, and various sources and then connecting it to experts, so there is a human element which is very important on our platform. You are coached by a real person; you are talking to a real doctor. However, we do use AI, but the AI is used to help the coach and help the doctor handle more users.
It’s a combination of data converting into insights that experts can help you with, and then benefitting you with insurance companies, banks, and all of the other people coming in saying, “Hey, because you are playing this game so well, here is your benefit.”
…that’s really the future of healthcare. It’s doctors telling you, “You don’t need a pill. What you need is a game.”
You use real people, real experts, and real doctors to give advice. How do the logistics of that work?
The entire model of GOQii is a market-based model, so our coaches and doctors can use our app to first get certified. Not everybody can become a coach. Once you are certified, you could be sitting anywhere and you would be getting data from our users and you could then be giving them one-on-one advice.
But the best part is, the way we pay our doctors and health coaches. They do not get paid on how many people they are coaching, they get paid on how engaged these people are, so they are incentivized to engage you more and more.
GOQii Cash is a reward for healthy living
Because we have data that engagement can correlate to healthier outcomes, almost 85% of our users have reported better health stats. We’ve been able to reduce their diabetes, we’ve been able to manage their cholesterol, and now we are working with various health organizations.
We launched a pilot in Birmingham with NHS, where doctors are prescribing their patients to play a game. So that’s really the future of healthcare. It’s doctors telling you, “You don’t need a pill. What you need is a game.”
For you, what is the ultimate game?
Well, as Elon Musk says, we’re already living in a virtual world. Maybe this whole thing is a game. But having said that, if you look at the power of gaming, if you look at what gaming has been able to do with World of Warcraft, Minecraft, I think the mechanics of engagement and entertainment is already in there.
Making healthy living more engaging
But if that is applied on a broader context to healthcare, where rather than punishing you, we could incentivize you, and say “Hey, because you are walking 10,000 steps or because you are eating vegetables, or because you are making sure you are not smoking or drinking excessively, how do we incentivize?” So the entire health structure needs to change.
Our belief is the world needs more playgrounds and not hospitals. The entire system unfortunately is investing in the curative healthcare, while what really is required is the preventative healthcare. Because with 7 billion people in the universe, we just don’t have enough dollars to cure people once they are sick. The only way to prevent the catastrophe is to make sure that they do not get diabetes, they do not get heart disease, they do not get [high] cholesterol. And that’s the way to go.