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Tuzag CEO Neal Sofian. (Tuzag Photo)

Tuzag is betting that health bots need a better bedside manner. The startup just launched a chat service that’s part concierge, part health assessor and comes with a healthy dose of compassion.

Tuzag’s first product, MyHealthyDay, is an out-of-the-box service that CEO Neal Sofian sums up as an “engagement bot.”

In a demo of Tuzag’s app for Amazon Alexa, the MyHealthyDay bot responded to news that a patient was having a bad day by saying, “I wish I could give you a big hug right now.” Other details, like remembering your pet’s name and asking for doggy updates, bring the humanistic angle a step further.

Health bots that use artificial intelligence are having a moment. Microsoft recently unveiled a platform for building health bots, and a number of health companies have built bots for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

“We’re doing two things that I think are very different,” Sofian said. “One is we’re building profiles on people so that we have a persistent memory and we’re learning every time we interact with you. The second part is we’re actually tailoring content down to the word just for you.”

Tuzag’s MyHealthyDay voice app is also available in other channels, such as a web dashboard, shown above. (Tuzag Screenshot)
Tuzag Founder Dave Bulger. (Tuzag Photo)

Tuzag’s bots can be programmed to have different personalities, which can change the experience, for example, from a friendly and bubbly conversation to a stern one.

With the help of artificial intelligence, Sofian thinks more personalized bots can change patient behavior. But it all starts with engagement.

“A good concierge in a hotel gets to know you. What are your needs? What do you want?” Sofian said. “Why wouldn’t we do that for consumers in health care when it’s 20 percent of the economy?”

In addition to the off-the-shelf MyHealthyDay product, Tuzag creates custom bots and can provide its product as middleware to other companies. While the startup is focused on voice apps, its services can be deployed through text messages, an online chatbot or other channels.

Tuzag is focused on the user experience to help improve engagement. “We want to build the concierge that can do what it takes to get people to connect to the products and services that are meaningful to them,” Sofian said.

In the future, Sofian said that MyHealthyDay could integrate with smart devices to give tailored advice, such as synching with a smart pill bottle to track whether a patient is taking their medicine. “It’s pretty startling how bad adherence is,” Sofian said.

Sofian runs the company with Tuzag founder Dave Bulger, who first started working on the project in 2013. The startup has offices in Seattle and Syracuse, New York, where Bulger is based.

Tuzag has partnered with the YMCA as well as Vanderbilt Health, which is developing its own bot for newcomers to Nashville, Tenn. The startup has raised around $500,000 in seed funding.

Sofian developed the successful smoking cessation program called Free and Clear, later renamed Quit for Life, in the 1980s. The program is now offered by more than 700 employers and health plans across 26 states. He also previously spent 14 years at Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative and was director of member engagement at Premera Blue Cross for seven years.

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