Editor’s note: This is the beginning of a two-part series profiling the evolution and success of Ginger.io, one of two winners of the inaugural HX360 Innovation Challenge competition, which recognized the best-in-class digital health companies demonstrating improved patient experience in hospital and health system settings.
On April 14th, 2015, at the HX360 Inaugural Event, Ginger.io, the leading digital mental health program, won access to $75,000 in prize money and legal services to fund new pilot programs at U.S. not-for-profit health systems using the company's products and services. Sharing the top spot was Wisercare, a service that helps bring clarity to healthcare decisions. Both companies will be paired with providers to operate their pilots at healthcare systems.
Ginger.io won after ascending through an original field of 83 entries with its app, which uses smartphones to help improve mental health care delivery by identifying patterns in behavior that may impact a patient’s health and well being. That insight is then shared with patients and their care teams to help better manage health conditions and improve treatment plans.
HX360 caught up with Pat Saxman of Ginger.io to learn about their evolution from brilliant idea to boosting the standard of care for those suffering from depression and anxiety.
How did Ginger.io come about?
One of our co-founders Anmol Madan collected 320,000 hours of data from cell phones for his senior thesis as an MIT Media Lab student. He discovered that certain patterns of behavior predict the start of issues like anxiety or the flu. Cell phone habits turned out to be useful red flags for caregivers and doctors to recognize that something is not as it usually is. From there Anmol and Karan Singh, a fellow MIT alum, created the Ginger.io app.
How does the Ginger.io app work?
Once invited by their doctor, people download the app and give it permission to run silently in the background of their smartphones where it collects behavior data that maps to clinical indicators of depression and anxiety including social interaction, physical movement and activity levels. Additionally, the app asks users to fill out self-reported daily questions on their mood and pushes helpful content and tactics proven to boost mood, such as soaking up more sun, how to keep worrying in check and keeping a positive evidence diary.
From there, Ginger.io aggregates, encrypts, and anonymizes patient data before running it through sophisticated statistical analysis to create meaningful insights for care providers. On the provider side, medical staff can see the information of the patients who have opted-in to making the data available to physicians on a web-based outcomes dashboard. Doctors can also send out their own surveys such as questionnaires on quality of sleep or frequency of headaches. This dashboard flags a provider when a patient’s health state starts to drastically decline. Caregivers can then identify at-risk patients, and potentially deliver earlier interventions like reaching out via phone or emailing those patients who will benefit the most from care.
Tell us about some of the successes Ginger.io experienced in the 4 years between its founding and the point at which you prepared for competing in the Innovation Challenge.
We’re now deployed in more than 40 provider settings—from primary care settings, to outpatient behavioral health, to complex care, to research— where we’re focused on demonstrating success against the triple aim. During that time, we’ve honed our product and built a sound and growing body of evidence against those common metrics.
We also raised $20M in Series B funding at the end of 2014, totaling funding in the company to 28M in venture capital to build world-class mental health programs. We’re proud to note that we’ve built an industry-leading team of clinical experts, data scientists, user experience designers and engineers to create a massively powerful product with an intuitive and consumer-grade experience.
I’d say one thing that sets us apart from the competition is that we’re not just focused on the technology, but also the wrap around protocols, workflows, implementation and change management services that successfully integrate Ginger.io in a wide variety of care settings. We’ve learned that successfully integrating into the existing healthcare system is just as important as building disruptive technologies the bring a new approach to delivering care.
How did you learn about the HX360 Innovation Challenge?
We were introduced to HX360 through Lisa Suennen, who really encouraged us to apply. Considering it was the inaugural event and unlike anything else out there at least that I’ve seen, we really wanted to make a good impression and take advantage of the opportunity.
How did you prepare for the Challenge?
Well, our mission as a company is to help people get better at scale, using a data-driven approach. But throughout the initial growth of Ginger.io, we had been very focused on the hard numbers, the data part of that mission. After all, our co-founder Anmol Madan rooted the premise for Ginger.io on his PhD thesis, which was focused on hard numbers and data about how we can apply this technology to healthcare. And as digital people, we want to see data, dive into the details and analyze the results.
But the data is only part of our mission. And over time we learned that data alone couldn’t adequately communicate the impact Ginger.io is having on real people’s lives. We needed to bring in their stories and show this technology in practice, on the ground every day. We needed the human element.
So at the point that we were preparing for the competition, we had a lot of these stories from our deployments in over 40 different medical centers. We decided to bring their voices forward and let them tell the Ginger.io story for us. We had the numbers to back it up, so it felt like a really great time for us to start showcasing the stories behind these numbers.
How did you tell that story?
We went through all the stories and feedback we had, and we looked for ones that really brought Ginger.io to life by focusing on the human effect of using such a powerful tool. We have a lot of great stories from very passionate people so it was hard to choose just one! But we eventually landed on telling the story of “Jane.” That’s not her real name, by the way, since we encrypt and blind all patient data.
Tell us about Jane.
Jane is a patient in an OBGYN clinic in North Carolina and she’s also a new mom. She had a background of having suffered from depression previous to her pregnancy so her doctor put her on Ginger.io to monitor for post partum depression during and after her pregnancy.
The day came when she delivered her baby and all was well. But we noticed that soon after the birth of her child, her health state started to decline pretty quickly. Her data and responses collected through the Ginger.io app triggered a notice to her doctor that something wasn’t right and Jane was exhibiting depressive symptoms. Her care team reached out to Jane. She said she was fine, a little stressed out with the new baby, but OK and so her care team thought maybe the notification was a false positive.
Fast forward 2 weeks and Jane’s health state continued to decline. Her care team reached out again, and during that second phone intervention it emerged that Jane had been worried that her anti-depressants would make it into her breast milk and harm her baby. She had read it on the Internet and she was totally conflicted and torn up inside. Not only was she worried she was going to harm her baby but she was also incredibly depressed and getting worse.
That second phone intervention enabled this honest conversation and the care team was able to communicate to Jane that her SSRIs were completely safe to take while breastfeeding. They also had a conversation about not believing everything on the Internet and if she had any other questions she could always call and talk to somebody about her concerns. As a result, Jane got on back her meds and the care team saw an uptick in her health state almost immediately.
Why was this particular story important to why Ginger.io is such an important tool for mental health?
Well, in addition to highlighting that post-partum depression is a major issue largely unaddressed in the U.S. and sometimes very difficult to catch or root out, this story also shows that there are any number of factors specific to a particular person that makes it difficult for a primary care provider to anticipate what triggers are going to, for instance, make someone worried about taking their medicine.
The bigger picture though, is that this story illustrates the power of a continuous connection with patients and how to gain visibility into a patient’s health state outside of the clinic and the positive health outcomes it can enable. It also tackles the high level of stigma in this country associated with both mental health and with asking for help.
We get a lot of emails everyday from people using the Ginger.io app saying “Thank you, I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time.” It’s very moving and it serves as great motivation for us to do more for this drastically underserved population.
We get these success stories and we love them. We ask people if we can share these stories because they matter – they matter to others in that same place, to know that they aren’t alone and that there is help out there.
Next up: what happened after the pitch and the win.
Ginger.io will be presenting at the National Healthcare Innovation Summit, June 15-17, 2015 here in Chicago. Featuring a contingent of speakers and presenters from HX360's inaugural event, this summit is the leading educational forum that explores cutting-edge innovations with demonstrated results that are accelerating healthcare transformation. Learn more here.