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New App Aims to Help Fight Chronic Illnesses

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BushyTail Health logo (Courtesy of George Hwang)A new app is aiming to help people with chronic illness lead healthier lives through a set of games where participants earn money for meeting goals.

With BushyTail Health, people with chronic illnesses will be able to wager money that they will be able to complete a personal goal in six months. Those who cannot accomplish the goal forfeit their money, but those who achieve their goal get their money back plus an extra bonus, said co-founder Dr. Jason Hoefling, an anesthesiologist at Georgetown University Hospital.

With chronic illnesses, people often don’t feel sick so they become less compliant, said co-founder and Arlington resident Dr. George Hwang, who’s also an anesthesiologist at Georgetown.

“It is hard to make people recognize that they are sick and scare tactics don’t work,” he said.

With BushyTail, the doctors are relying on financial incentives and motivation to encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles. The app is still in its design phase but the co-founders hope to release it early next year, Hwang said. BushyTail Health is a startup under the 1776 incubator program in Crystal City with backing from MedStar Health.

To use BushyTail, players will download the free app and set a personal goal. The app will connect them with other people who have similar goals or illnesses to create a game. A pot of money will be created from each of the participants’ wagers. If everyone completes their goal, they each walk away with the same amount of money they put in. If someone drops out or fails to achieve their goal, the remaining players will walk away with their money plus a cut of the leftover money.

Goals will be set so that they are attainable for each person and BushyTail will offer support and help, giving the participants a good chance of earning their money, Hoefling said.

“The entire experience is not designed to take money from people for the company,” he said.

The participants are given complete control over whether they complete a goal or not, such as losing weight or keeping their blood sugar level at good numbers, said

“This game is not gambling because you have all the control in the world,” Hoefling said.

Participants will be able to link the app to their lab results from lab services like Quest or LabCorp so that the data supporting their progress is objective and prevents a “fudge factor,” Hwang said.

“It is pretty unique that we’re using lab data, but its what separates from other apps,” he said.

The idea behind BushyTail is based on research, Hoefling said, adding that medical research suggests that the best way to change human behavior is through financial incentives and motivation.

“We encourage people to waiver an amount of money that will motivate them,” he said. “If it’s something that will hurt to lose, it’s more motivational.”

The doctors will be using the app to collect their own data on human behavior, looking to find information that can help physicians better treat people with chronic illnesses, Hoefling said.

“You’re obviously hoping to find what makes people better because it is so hard,” he said.

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