Digital health startup aims to gamify medication adherence to tackle heart disease

Hello Heart began American Heart Month in February by joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC's) “Love Your Heart” campaign and wrapped it up with a new app feature focusing on medication adherence.

The digital health coaching platform, used by more than 100,000 U.S. patients to manage their heart health, released a virtual pillbox upgrade to its app called My Meds. The tool focuses on medication adherence and safety by tracking medications and flagging known drug interactions. The feature was rolled out with its 100 employer clients earlier this month.

“Medication adherence is unusually low when it comes to heart disease. Because you can’t see or feel heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and blood pressure, you can’t feel if the meds you are taking are helping them or not, which leads many people to just skip them and ignore the problem,” Maayan Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Hello Heart, said in a press release.

Hello Heart gamifies med adherence with the understanding that heart health is a relatively silent killer that both patients and employers tend to put off addressing. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., comprising one in every five deaths.

The app gamifies other heart health-related activities such as reaching exercise and step goals and tracking blood pressure.

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The largely uncontrolled epidemic could be better addressed by medication adherence, which the American Heart Association found to be less than 50% after a year.

If just 25% of Medicare patients became adherent to their high blood pressure medication, research has shown that the U.S. would save $13.7 billion annually and avoid more than 100,000 emergency department visits.

“Over 50% of patients don’t take their meds as directed, and when it comes to patients living with heart disease, taking medication consistently and regularly as your doctor prescribed can be nothing short of life-saving,” Cohen said.

The Hello Heart platform bills itself to be “non-judgemental” in its strategies to sustain user engagement, which the company reports it achieves with 60% engagement after a year. The same social work maxim of “meeting people where they’re at” is reflected in the simplifying of complex health terminology.

Hello Heart follows many of the guidelines highlighted by the CDC’s Love Your Heart resources for healthcare professionals. The CDC emphasizes the need for lifestyle changes, blood pressure monitoring and medication adherence, all steps that can help address the silent killer of high blood pressure.

The University of San Francisco published a study in JAMA showing that of the adults who used the app's blood pressure self-management program, 84% reduced blood pressure for up to three years. The average reduction in blood pressure over three years was twice the number of similar solutions.

A similar study conducted by Harvard University and the University of California, Los Angeles found that higher app engagement led to 69% of members achieving blood pressure normalization in 22 weeks.

The Hello Heart app uses AI to suggest activities while employing the Stanford Hook Model to create behavior changes. The Hook Model is a four-step process aimed at building habit-forming products by creating a cycle of triggering engagement through notifications, action reflecting the aspirational behavior change, variable rewards for action and repeated investment.  

Hello Heart is a part of the American Heart Association Innovators’ Network and the CVS Health Point Solutions Management program. With hypertension being the most prevalent chronic condition in the country, it racks up huge costs for the healthcare system and employers.

“Maintaining heart health is not only an issue of wellness, but it’s also good business sense,” Cohen said. “Promoting patients’ heart health significantly decreases a whole spectrum of healthcare costs for patients and their employers, and we have seen significant cost savings. For example, one study showed a savings of $1,865 per member for our clients.”

In May 2022, the company bagged a $70 million series D funding round, and it has raised a total of $120 million to date.