Taking pictures of your food is a time-honored tradition as old as Instagram, but now those photos can actually improve health. A new app from Seattle-based HealthSlate allows diabetes patients to send snaps of their snacks to professional food coaches, who analyze the nutritional content of what’s on the plate and determine whether the meal will help or hurt the patient.
Traditionally, diabetes patients have been asked to keep a food log, jotting down exactly what they eat throughout the day. They bring that log into their next checkup and get advice on how what they can change what they’re eating to better manage their diabetes.
But many patients give up quickly on the tracking since they don’t see the benefit of the logs, or it becomes too complicated to accurately write down everything they eat.
“Dietitians will tell you that people give up in less than two days,” HealthSlate CEO Dan Sheeran said. “They’re writing all this stuff down, they’re not getting any in-the-moment feedback where they know what to do next time, they’re not getting any emotional feedback. So it’s all this work for this thing that they really don’t want to be doing in the first place, and so they give up on it.”
Of course, diabetes patents aren’t the only people interested in logging their meals these days. A direct-to-consumer option of HealthSlate may be coming down the road, but right now HealthSlate is focused on expanding in the healthcare market.
Fitness-focused tracking apps that allowed users to log meals, like MyFitnessPal, were met with some excitement from the diabetes community, but the lack of feedback was still a major problem, and not all diabetes patients have the tech know-how to take full advantage of them.
With HealthSlate, patients get feedback on what they’re eating within hours of logging it, with coaches estimating serving sizes and carbs in each meal and suggesting alternatives that might be healthier for the next meal. Patients can also watch videos to learn more about how foods and activities can affect their health.
HealthSlate also lets users log things like blood glucose levels and exercise, which coaches and doctors have access to and can use to suggest meals to users. The coaches help them set reasonable goals for managing their diabetes and answer questions about improving their health.
“I’ve been up and down like a roller coaster in my battle with [diabetes]” said Kevin Entze, who has had diabetes for 20 years and has been using HealthSlate for about two months. “Since I’ve been on this program … I’ve dropped over 20 pounds, and it’s the first time [my blood sugars] are below what they want.”
Right now, a few health systems in the Pacific Northwest are piloting the HealthSlate app for use with patients. CHI Franciscan Health is testing the app with 13 patients right now, and has seen strong results. The education aspect is one of the more important parts of the app for diabetes services manager Catherine Farrell.
“Currently, payers [such as insurance companies] already pay for diabetes education,” Farrell said. “You’re already paying for this service, let’s have this as another option so we can increase access.”
HealthSlate isn’t widely available yet. While the experience is compelling to many —Sheeran says when he pitches the app to doctors, many are disappointed they can’t use it on their own — the current plan is to expand through hospital groups and have the app paid for as part of the care covered by insurance programs.
“The insurance companies around here are very interested in this because they actually get more money from the government for taking people with chronic disease onto their plans,” Sheeran said. “It used to be the opposite … but with insurance reform that’s shifted and they’re very interested.”
There are about 50 people in the program right now, with 500 expected in the first quarter of next year and “some number of thousands” before 2016 is over, according to Sheeran.
HealthSlate is currently funded by Second Avenue Partners, the Seattle-based VC firm co-founded by Nick Hanauer, Pete Higgins and Mike Slade, along with support from angel investors and the management. HealthSlate has raised about $3 million to develop its app.
Sheeran is leading a team filled with medical professionals, but his background is in engaging consumers. He previously held leadership positions in the consumer and mobile divisions at RealNetworks, leading the company’s Rhapsody music services for a time. He also led consumer research and engagement at nCUBE, an interactive TV platform.