Entrepreneur of the Week: Victor Wang, care.coach
care.coach is a care guidance solution which provides older patients with coaching and social support through an avatar-based virtual platform.
We talked to CEO Victor Wang about care.coach and the opportunity they see in the 50+ market.
Longevity Network: What does care.coach, the company, do?
Victor Wang: care.coach helps healthcare providers to better support their highest need, highest risk patients, both in the hospital and at home, to drive a range of outcomes. We employ a unique fusion of compassionate people and friendly technology, and our solution has been clinically validated and successfully deployed to various customers in the form of both individual families and organizations such as home care agencies, hospitals, and specialized health plans.
LN: Can you tell us about your product and how it works?
VW: With care.coach, patients simply talk with a captivating avatar that serves as the face for care.coach’s team of specially trained health advocates. The avatar engages patients, coaches them to improve self-management of chronic conditions, and provides compassionate, 24×7 psychosocial support. Conversations of a care or health related nature are automated through software algorithms that implement evidence-based best practices, as well as reporting and alerts to stakeholders such as clinicians, caregivers, and family members. Because it is driven by real people, the platform works with any level of technology and cognitive ability, which makes it ideally suited for the types of patients at the highest healthcare risk and cost strata.
LN: What opportunity did you want to address with the development of your technology?
VW: Originally, I wanted to solve loneliness in older adults, based on my family experience with my grandmother in Taiwan. According to our early research with our avatars, from which several papers have been published, it’s clear that our avatars reduce loneliness and improve psychosocial support. What we’ve more recently realized is that once you have this friendly relationship with someone who in fact may be a very high risk, high cost patient from the perspective of the healthcare system, you can leverage that relationship to coach and affect health-related behaviors, resulting in better quality of life for the patient and various sought-after clinical and cost related benefits for the healthcare system.
LN: Who are your primary users? In what ways can your products benefit the 50+ population?
VW: Our average patient/client/user age is in the 70’s, but we have many clients who are merely in their 50’s, and occasionally even younger. Clinical research shows that our avatars reduce measures of loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale), improve perceptions of social support (on multiple MOS Social Support Subscales), may have benefits for anxiety (GAD-7) and depression (PHQ-9 / GDS), and in the hospital can even reduce rate of falls by up to 70-85% and significantly mitigate delirium by executing various bedside protocols.
LN: How did you assemble your team?
VW: I found my co-founder who was doing her PhD at MIT and gradually met others who were interested in what we were up to. Actually I was speaking at Aging in America one year about our research outcomes, and went to the newbie event for first-timers to the conference. I happened to sit across the table from a young gerontologist who eventually became our program manager at care.coach, and incidentally also my wife!
LN: How has care.coach the company differed from what you envisioned it would be (if at all)?
VW: We started the company as “GeriJoy” and it was really focused on solving loneliness in older adults. Since then we’ve evolved our vision from this foundation to better support all sorts of people not only from a psychosocial perspective, but also from a functional and healthcare standpoint to drive key outcomes from the perspective of our country’s healthcare system. We named ourselves “care.coach” as we began to sign on customers including hospitals and health plans.
LN: What do you wish you had known before developing your concept?
VW: Radical innovation in healthcare is extremely challenging, but doable and worth the effort. Initially (as GeriJoy) we stayed away from healthcare, HIPAA, and of that complexity, regulation, and risk, but in the end realized that’s where we can truly make the greatest difference not only in the lives of individuals but also in playing a role in saving our healthcare system from collapse.
LN: What most excites you about the aging and / or health technology market?
VW: There is tremendous need for practical, scalable innovation that really makes a difference in outcomes and costs of care, and we are at a unique time in the evolution of the US healthcare system, especially with the aging population, that makes this one of the top areas in which a technologist/entrepreneur can potentially make the greatest social impact right now.
LN: What is your best piece of advice for startups who want to include or target the 50+ market?
VW: While rewarding, this market is also extremely challenging and there are a lot of pitfalls that very few people will naturally intuit — especially younger technologist/entrepreneurs, but just because you’re 50+ yourself doesn’t actually mean you understand the market either. However much time/resources you think you need to dedicate to understanding your users/customers/market before starting to build your product, multiply that by 10x. Or 20x if you are trying to build an actual healthcare solution!
LN: Do you have any other products in development?
VW: Our avatar platform is actually an amalgam of various products that we deliver to suit the needs of each customer and each individual. The avatar itself is actually a tiny piece of our product platform, which can include a Family Portal, Provider Portal and analytics/reporting, various sets of clinical and care-related protocols and programming applicable in various settings such as in the hospital or at home, etc., and we are always working to automate and advance everything.
LN: Where do you see care.coach five years from now?
VW: In many more healthcare systems, benefiting many more people :)
LN: Anything else you’d like to share?
VW: I think that’s enough for now!
Victor got started tinkering with tech at age six, programming role-playing games for MS-DOS. He worked in telemarketing, environmental research, aerospace manufacturing, particle physics, oil sands, medical robotics, and the military, before grad school at MIT and starting a career as a healthcare entrepreneur.