We know, we know... there are tons of apps out there that have to do with reminding PWDs (people with diabetes) to check their glucose more often, and track parameters like food, dosing and exercise. But this one's a bit different, taking a community approach that includes some friendly competition and cheerleading, along with incentives offered via gamification.

CheckMate Diabetes logoSay hello to Checkmate Diabetes, a budding startup created by a group of students at Harvard. Their new iOS and Android compatible app launched in mid-February and a survey of early users found a four-fold increase in precision and consistency reaching BG targets, we're told. The company is working closely with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, and they’ve received funding from MIT to further develop this mobile app platform.

“What sets us apart from the rest is that we are community-focused rather than individual-focused as we are using gamification, tangible rewards and in-person support groups to serve as extrinsic motivation,” says Michael Heisterkamp, a Harvard graduate student who is one of CheckMate's five founders, the only one living with T1D himself. “Our mantra is to create an app for people with diabetes, by people with diabetes.”

The app is pretty straightforward to use: You simply sign in and connect via Facebook, program your Low/High BG thresholds and connect with any FB friends, and then start manually logging your blood sugars. A dashboard lets you track your earned rewards and view how others are doing. The plan is to eventually allow integration of other device data into CheckMate as well.

The whole idea grew out of a Harvard course titled “Glucose: From Molecules to Society” (SCRB 175, for those interested). Co-founder Emi Gonzalez, who’s graduating this year with a focus in Molecular and Cellular Biology, explained that the course included PWD guest speakers who spoke about how complications like vision loss and amputations have impacted their lives. The class began an open-ended project to build a preventative tool, and that eventually led to the five students launching CheckMate. 

We had a chance to talk with D-peep Heisterkamp recently, and here’s what he shares about CheckMate and his own diabetes story as well.


A Talk with CheckMate Co-founder Michael Heisterkamp 

DM) Hey Michael, there are many diabetes apps out there. What's really unique about CheckMate?

MH) We are creating CheckMate to fill a void that exists in the market currently. There are no other good options that provide lasting motivation, create cohesive communities and allow people to overcome their conditions together.

How are you doing that?

We are utilizing gamification by having users compete against their friends, other local users, and themselves to motivate people to take control of their situation. We are using machine learning algorithms to monitor user interaction and build scoring platforms that will motivate the largest number of users to create the most positive benefit. We are using gamification as well as social community building to provide both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

What is your role at CheckMate?

I am the business director. At Harvard, I'm a Master's student focusing in Strategic Management. I'm also a serial entrepreneur who's been involved in the founding of companies in the real estate, entertainment and technology industries.

Can you tell us about your own T1D diagnosis?

As far as I am aware, I might still hold the record for the highest conscious blood glucose reading at the hospital when admitted and diagnosed. I don’t recall the exact number, but my glucose was somewhere in the mid-900s.

I was 15 at the time and it was Labor Day weekend. I spent a week in the hospital and about 50% of that time was in the ICU. The doctors were running all kinds of tests because of additional things they believed were being affected due to my blood glucose levels and the extreme length of time I had gone through that summer undiagnosed. Looking back on the symptom history, I would say I was undiagnosed for at least 3 months if not longer. I was given insulin during my ICU time at a very slow rate so as to not exacerbate the other concerns the doctors had during that time.

That was 15 years ago. I received excellent diabetes education while in the hospital, and I am kind of shocked when people tell me how little education they received while in the hospital.

So as a PWD yourself, you really understand the daily challenges. What kinds of rewards are you offering CheckMate users?

We are currently building partnerships with industry, community businesses and users to bring the best possible rewards that users will see the most benefit from -- diabetes and health-related prizes including testing supplies, insulin supplies, gym passes, healthy food gift certificates and other similar prizes.

What sets it apart from other apps that also use gamification?

We believe that building strong community support systems are what will drive the next big breakthrough in diabetes care and management. Like many other conditions, a big key to the long-term success of condition management and creating a better life for those affected is the building positive motivation feedback loops. We believe this is what will set CheckMate apart from all other platforms that currently exist. 

What’s the community response been to the CheckMate app, so far?

So far (as of early March) we have launched an MVP (minimum viable product) and we are approaching 200 downloads with essentially zero consumer advertising. We are actively soliciting feedback but so far what we have received has been very positive. We are putting users in the driver's seat in terms of app development, we believe that building the app that users want is our path to success in the market. 

How are you measuring outcomes for those using the app?

We have done a beta proof of concept where we simulated the app and had volunteers monitor their blood glucose numbers as well as the number of times a day they were testing and ran the results through our scoring algorithm to create a score. The users provided six weeks worth of glucose testing results and frequency. We then asked participants to provide their blood glucose high and low range as well as the number of times their doctor asked them to test each day. We then reached out to them on a weekly basis to provide their glucose results and test frequency. Over the course of the six-week proof-of-concept test, we saw impressive results, both in time spent in range and the frequency of glucose testing made positive movement in a statistically significant amount.

Participants also provided feedback each week as to how the group involvement was helping or hindering their testing frequency and results. We received positive feedback from every person in the study about the interactive features (group text messaging).

What about those who use CGMs (continuous glucose monitors)?

Yes, we are building in usability for them; the key components of CheckMate are not explicitly tied to the digital logbook.

As you build this out, will CheckMate remain free of charge?

Our application is a consumer-focused platform and we are looking to have a competitive pricing model compared to others in the market for the full spectrum of capabilities. We do have and will continue having a free verison that is slightly scaled down, to provide our unique benefits to all people. 

How are you working with healthcare providers on this?

We are currently working with three advisors at Massachusetts General Hospital and Joslin, as well as industry advisers. Our advisers are helping us better understand the needs of the potential user population as well as provide insight into the medical system and how CheckMate (the company) can best position itself as a meaningful tool.

What about funding?
We are currently sourcing angel investments and look forward to continuing to build our brand, platform and user base by providing the best service possible.  


Looks like an interesting concept, and we're particularly interested in seeing how this develops, coming from the minds of a younger generation :)


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