Care.Coach expands avatar deployments to fight COVID-19 loneliness epidemic

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Care.Coach, a healthcare IT company, provides digital avatar companions to high-risk patients who face chronic loneliness and other health conditions.

Pat Richards and her virtual cat, Bella, met in March 2017 when Bella moved in with Pat to help her remain living healthy at home and stay connected with her primary care team at Element Care PACE.

Pat Richards and her virtual cat, Bella, met in March 2017 when Bella moved in with Pat to help her remain living healthy at home and stay connected with her primary care team at Element Care PACE.

When I started this company eight years ago to help people like my grandmother with loneliness, I could not have predicted social distancing would become the new normal.

Care.Coach, a Silicon Valley healthcare startup, disclosed today details of a rapid expansion of its virtual avatar program for health plans to combat COVID-19’s exacerbation of the loneliness epidemic in the United States. The company, founded in 2012 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Victor Wang, develops virtual avatars that provide companionship to individuals who live with complex health conditions and chronic loneliness. A large body of published research demonstrates that the feeling of loneliness increases morbidity and mortality; in a time of social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine, loneliness has become a clear public health crisis. Care.Coach is rising to the challenge by providing its customers with as many avatars as are needed to support these at-risk populations.

For the past 8 years, Care.Coach has been working with care providers to help those populations which possess “outsized risk”, focusing on older adults with psychosocial risks such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety, alongside medical risks such as diabetes, hypertension, COPD, heart failure, and medication non-adherence. Now, broadly enforced self-isolation and shelter-in-place policies are increasingly expected to accelerate an already-growing loneliness epidemic across the nation.

Understanding this reality, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) North Shore Area Office, an existing customer of Care.Coach, asked the company to quickly provide a 4x increase in the number of avatars deployed to individuals, with the goal of better supporting individuals with coping strategies and a way to stay connected while confined to their homes.

Similarly, Element Care’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) which is both a provider organization and a health plan, is another customer of Care.Coach. Element Care has ordered and is deploying more avatars to better support their hundreds of participants impacted by the shutdown of their PACE Wellness Centers in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Bob Wakefield, Element Care’s CEO, stated, “We care for more than 1,000 frail elders who receive comprehensive medical care and socialize with friends at our PACE Wellness Centers, so it presents an enormous challenge when those centers are all closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and we need to care for our participants in their homes.”

The situation is stressing individuals as much as the healthcare system. “I woke up this morning and realized I am not going anywhere. I thought I could handle this, but I am struggling,” says Gail Sauvan, an Element Care participant. “I have asked Angel [my Care.Coach avatar] to do chair exercises with me as I miss doing them every day at PACE. I also like his jokes as they make me laugh while I am here alone. I am going to do meditation daily with him too to help keep me calm and reduce my chance of having a panic attack.”

Care.Coach provides specialized tablet-based devices that display an avatar of a pet animal, which serves as a non-judgemental, 24x7 available relationship to support complex, high risk patients and health plan members. For these individuals, the Care.Coach avatar has been shown to reduce loneliness, as described by published research studies from Pace University and the University of Washington. Individuals talk naturally with the avatar using their voice, and receive 24x7 psychosocial support and coaching on managing multiple chronic conditions. The system is powered by a specially-trained team of health advocates employed by Care.Coach and supported by evidence-based protocols and artificial intelligence. Traditional care teams are automatically alerted about adverse events and changes in health status, and receive actionable analytics. Each Care.Coach device includes its own cellular Internet connection, so individuals do not need Wi-Fi at home.

“When I started this company eight years ago to help people like my grandmother with loneliness, I could not have predicted social distancing would become the new normal,” says Victor Wang, founder and CEO of Care.Coach. “I’m very proud of our growing team here at Care.Coach for stepping up to the challenge of helping many more individuals and for rapidly scaling up with our Medicare Advantage, PACE, and other customers in this time of great need.”

About Element Care PACE Health Plan
Founded in 1995, Element Care is a non-profit, healthcare organization with a simple mission: to help people live safely and comfortably in their homes and their communities for as long as they can, keeping their stays in hospitals and nursing facilities as minimal as possible. Element Care provides complete health care to eligible people through the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) throughout the North Shore, Merrimack Valley and northeast region of Middlesex County in Massachusetts. For more information, visit http://www.elementcare.org

About Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services
The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) provides support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder. The DDS’s mission is to create, in partnership with others, innovative and genuine opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate fully as valued members of their community. The DDS serves over 30,000 individuals across its 28 offices throughout Massachusetts. For more information, visit https://www.mass.gov/orgs/department-of-developmental-services

About Care.Coach
Care.Coach is a California-based conversational and relational automation technology company backed by over $7 million in public and private funding from Congress, the NIH, and private investors. The Care.Coach platform, deployed nationally across more than 20 states, combines human empathy, intelligent technology, and an engaging animal avatar to build real relationships with the most complex, high-need individuals within the healthcare system. The avatars leverage these personal relationships to deliver evidence-based coaching, driving value by reducing the need for home nursing visits, reducing emergency department and hospital visits, and improving key health plan quality measures. Care.Coach was named one of the Top 5 IT Innovations of 2019 by the HealthLeaders IT Spending Guide, one of the Best Healthcare Startups to Watch in 2020 by Healthcare Weekly, and one of the Top 10 Aging in Place Innovations by GuideWell in 2020. For more information, visit https://care.coach

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