Providing scalable health advice to the masses

October 15, 2018
Healthcare app Naluri aims to help Malaysians live more healthily through scalable health coaching that uses technology to multiply the productivity of healthcare professionals.

The brainchild of Azran Osman Rani, ex-CEO of Iflix and AirAsia X, Naluri was borne out of a self-confessed obsession to improve the fitness of Malaysians. Backed by a team of doctors, psychologists, dieticians and fitness coaches, the app seeks to provide holistic solutions for users who are overweight or facing stress, anxiety or depression.

Earlier this year, National Diabetes Institute (Nadi) Executive Chairman, Datuk Dr Mustaffa Embong warned that Malaysia has the greatest prevalence of obesity in Southeast Asia as well as one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Approximately one in three Malaysian adults also suffers from a mental health condition or is at risk of developing a diagnosable mental illness, according to the country’s last National Health and MorbiditySurvey in 2015.This makes holistic and preventative care an important healthcare priority for the country.

Predicting readiness to change

Yet making a lasting impact can prove challenging as health risk assessments, reward programs and personal fitness apps “only work for about 20% of the population”, says Osman Rani. “This 20% of the population tend to be the ones who are achievement-oriented and goal focused,’’ he says. ‘’You give them the tools and off they go. But 80% of the population really struggle to make these things stick.’’

In order to make sure its users stay motivated, Naluri uses artificial intelligence to “multiply the productivity of each professional psychologist or dietician by 10 if not 20, 30 times’’.

By analysing patterns of behaviour and performance, the app can almost predict a user’s readiness to change and level of resilience, says Osman Rani. And if a user is likely to disengage, a coach can intervene at the right time and in the right context or tone that works best for that person.

Using technology to heighten the efficacy of Naluri’s healthcare professionals also gets around the severe lack of clinical psychologists in Malaysia. In 2017, there were 2.87 clinical psychologist per million people, a slight increase from 2.82 in 2011. But Naluri’s technological innovations hopes to expand the reach for this small group of psychologists.

Other visual AI functions on the Naluri app is a food journal where users can snap photos of meals and receive nutritional information or healthier substitutions. The local element of Naluri becomes imperative as while there are dozens of existing dieting apps, most would not be able to recognise local dishes be it a mee goreng ora nasi lemak.

“You cannot just take the western model of kale, quinoa, chia seeds, Fitbit, yoga, and meditation,’’ says Osman Rani about changing users’ lifestyle and behaviours. ‘’It just doesn’t work beyond our little urban enclaves.’’

Pay as you lose

While the end goal is the consumer, interestingly Naluri, which means instinct in Bahasa, is mainly a B2B player whereby insurance companies and corporate employers bring in the users. If Naluri is able to produce clinically significant outcomes, such as a 5% weight reduction, the companies will then pay Naluri a success fee of a few hundred dollars.

This pre-emptive approach appeals to employers and insurance companies as the average yearly cost to treat someone with diabetes, or heart disease is far in excess of the success fee. The information that the app is collecting could also prove to be a data treasure trove in terms of addressing chronic health problems.

Osman Rani admits that some psychologists and behavioral scientists have expressed doubts about his app, believing that nothing can replace traditional face-to-face conversations. Yet he counters that Naluri is complementary to traditional therapy methods and is not meant to be a replacement.

“I’m not trying to get everyone healthier,’’ says Osman Rani. ‘’I’m specifically focusing on the mass market who are struggling with making changes even when they know this is good or that is not good for them. Overwhelmed with work, middle-class, white-collar workers who are just really struggling to get by in life.’’