How Newtopia’s next-generation habit change platform puts disease prevention front and centre
Malin Dunfors, Market One Media
- The telehealth market is expected to be valued at USD$175 billon by 2026
- Newtopia recorded a record revenue of $2.69 million in Q2 2020
- As the company scales, it plans to increase the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate better habit change outcomes for a larger number of participants
Lifestyle-related chronic diseases are on the rise and are increasingly putting pressure on healthcare systems all over the world, particularly in the era of COVID-19.
But there is a silver lining. Chronic diseases are preventable, and the related costs can be reduced through proactive healthcare solutions, something that is being recognized by more employers and insurers. Rather than relying on a reactive approach, they’re investing in prevention and well-being programs that are offered virtually.
Through these programs, employees at risk of a chronic disease can be empowered to change their habits, becoming healthier in the short and the long run. For the employer, a healthy labour force translates into fewer sick days, improved productivity, and lowered healthcare costs and insurance premiums.
While the traditional healthcare model has been largely focused on taking care of those who are already sick, there are very few systems in place that are focused on preventing illness and inspiring healthy daily living. Doctors’ waiting rooms and hospital beds are filled with patients who have preventable diseases while insurers, employers, and taxpayers are on the hook for the astronomical and still rising costs.
“I’ve taken to calling this a lightning strike moment for disease prevention.”
— Jeff Ruby, founder and CEO, Newtopia.
Additionally, the recent pandemic has seen a significant shift to virtual care with the global telehealth market expected to be valued at USD$175-billion in 2026, Global Market Insights predicts. While telehealth was already slowly gaining ground, the pandemic sped demand up exponentially with many people staying home. Now, contacting a doctor from the comfort of your own home means less waiting at clinics and hospitals.
A lightning strike moment for this Canadian virtual care company
Newtopia (TSXV: NEWU) is tapping into this market to bring forward a preventative approach to healthcare. The Toronto-based virtual care company’s next-generation habit change platform works to help individuals at risk of developing chronic disease to form long-lasting healthy habits.
The company was founded in 2008, long before the coronavirus.
“I’ve taken to calling this a lightning strike moment for disease prevention,” says Jeff Ruby, founder and CEO of Newtopia.
Prior to COVID-19, it was considered more of a “Nice to have,” he notes. But with recent medical evidence suggesting that people with chronic health conditions have a much higher risk of becoming ill and utilizing greater healthcare resources if they contract the virus, disease prevention is being highlighted on a global scale.
“The entire planet literally is now focused on preventing a disease,” Ruby says.
During the pandemic, Newtopia has seen some of the highest engagement rates in the company’s history among their participants, who are U.S. based employees at risk of developing a chronic disease.
“One size fits one” approach
To lose his dad at a young age to cancer propelled Ruby to start three start-ups, all within the disease prevention space. Over the years, he has come to learn that lifestyle-related chronic disease is “Entirely preventable through our actions, choices and decisions.”
And, he firmly believes that habits can change. “But there’s a formula behind it, and a way to do it. It requires a one size fits one orientation.”
That’s in stark contrast to many disease prevention programs currently out there, which are based on a “one-size-fits-all” business model.
Newtopia has flipped that model on its head. Instead of having participants go through an identical experience, focused on the same curriculum, it takes the time to learn about each participant and leverages that understanding to create a “Combination of the best of human intervention and the best of digital” to design a different experience for each individual.
The company uses a personal profile, targeted genetic testing, behavioural science and smart technology to learn as much as possible about the participant before developing a customized program which includes recommendations across nutrition, exercise and mental health.
The aim is to progressively change habits so that the individuals become the engine of their own growth.
In 2015, American health insurance giant, Aetna, partnered with Newtopia to conduct a randomized control trial with the goal of reducing the risk of Metabolic Syndrome among its employees.
The results, published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that 76 per cent of the participants lost an average of 10 pounds. The results also showed that the average healthcare costs decreased by USD$122 per person each month.
On June 25, 2020, Newtopia’s Alternate Diabetes Prevention Program received full accreditation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.
This was followed by impressive financial results for the second quarter of 2020. Newtopia reported that record levels of engagement drove an increase in revenue to $2.69 million, an increase of 67 per cent compared to the prior period ($1.61 million).
Following this, Newtopia announced its expanded product suite that prevents, reverses and slows the progression of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and obesity. With the growing need for virtual solutions, Newtopia is able to offer this expanded product suite across a variety of digital channels, making it easy to meet people where they are and through their preferred communication method.
Caring gets people out of the door
“This whole precision health orientation that we have, using a combination of genetic, social and behavioural information, that’s really the driver for getting to know each individual,” Ruby says.
To understand what motivates a particular person, and to successfully use that knowledge when interacting, can make participants become more engaged over the long-term.
“That’s critical to success with Newtopia because caring is what gets people active. It’s caring that gets people to follow a plan. I think that’s an important point, and we are trying to continue to do that better through technology,” says Bill Van Wyck, Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product at Newtopia.
The platform has been built to reflect the participant’s progress.
“It adapts to where the user is. It adapts to changes in that user. It adapts in terms of what works best when,” he notes.
To achieve scale and efficiency, the company draws on machine learning, artificial intelligence and rules engines working together. Indexing is used for corporate clients of different sizes and demographics.
A recent U.S. survey revealed that individuals are looking for better guidance on how to implement healthy behaviours. The survey found that overall “Patients want better guidance from their clinicians about how they can implement healthy behaviors in their own lives. Patients need help with motivation, as well as the cost and time it takes to invest in healthy behavior change.”
Taking this into consideration, as part of the onboarding experience, Newtopia uses a personality-matching algorithm (similar to Match.com and eHarmony) to match each participant with an “Inspirator.”
“They’re coaches at Newtopia, they’re empathetic and equipped with the knowledge to inspire, teach and motivate. We’re trying to find the best fit because the Inspirator is going to be that key catalyst to meeting each person where they’re at in driving that incremental behavioural change,” Ruby explains.
Participants receive a customized experience on the app through which they communicate with their Inspirator.
In these uncertain times, the Inspirators have been able to offer a bit of a lifeline.
“It’s someone to talk to, someone to motivate, someone to inspire at a time when there’s not a lot of inspiration to go around,” he says.
Empathy is ingrained in the company’s DNA.
“From the individuals that we have designing our products and our technology, to our Inspirators delivering each individualized program and our care specialists operating the customer service side, each member of the Newtopia team is chosen first for their ability to be empathic and put themselves in the shoes of someone else. We must be empathetic or it’s impossible to design an experience around an individual.”
Newtopia is just getting started. The company has penetrated less than two per cent of self-insured employers in the U.S., which is the first area that the company targeted.
At the same time, lifestyle-related chronic disease is becoming a global health problem, which offers huge growth opportunities in Europe, Asia and Africa — and of course, Canada. The ideal customer would be the provincial health insurer.
“I think there’s an awareness of the work that we’re doing and the role we play on the disease prevention side,” Ruby notes.
“The question is where that fits within prioritization of dollars spent and budgets against a very challenging sick care environment, especially given COVID-19. The hope is to establish more and more business opportunities,” he adds.
But there’s more. As Newtopia gains more valuable insights into disease prevention, there’s an opportunity for the company to have a stake in partnering with drug discovery and pharma companies on how to usher in the next generation of preventive therapeutic platforms.
Ruby explains, “I think we can have a massive impact on risk, not as adversaries but working together, and that’s the future that we’re incredibly excited about.”
Newtopia stands for bringing together the right ingredients to engage people, drive sustainable outcomes, and save costs through:
- The right integrative lifestyle content — nutrition + exercise + behavioral well-being
- The right personalized engagement model designed to tap into intrinsic motivation for each participant
Learn more about Newtopia by visiting their website here.
The company began trading on TSXV under symbol NEWU on May 4, 2020.