Digital health tech company Naluri gives you remote digital health monitoring and expert advice in the palm of your hands.
When it comes to the digital transformation of healthcare, one area deserves particular attention in this age of discovery: health technology. Just like with everything else in this world, technology has changed a dramatic amount in the field of healthcare over the last 10 years alone, and digital health is now ever-present.
This is a field that continues to push the boundaries, especially in the way how healthcare is delivered, and is poised to drive breakthroughs in how we understand personal healthcare. From telemedicine and health-related wearables to online medical providers and health resources, digital health is growing faster than ever before.
Now, consumers are using digital resources to better manage their own health, while medical facilities are also leveraging on digital technology to track, manage and improve the health of their patients. We live in a time where patients no longer even have to meet medical professionals in person to get the treatment or advice they need.
Putting such power into the hands of patients and health-conscious individuals, while also giving doctors and medical professionals access to the tools and data that they need to be effective is perhaps the underlying philosophy behind the founding of Naluri. And if that brand name is a new one for you, then know this: since its inception in 2017, the Malaysian digital health technology company has been helping its clientele manage a plethora of personal health concerns so prevalent in this present time.
Through its mobile health app (you can find out more at www.naluri.life), Naluri combines behavioural science, data science and digital design to offer health coaching and psychological support. It then assigns human-led and AI-augmented digital health coaching by personal health experts to users battling or at risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, or depression, anxiety and stress.
And let’s just say that the minds behind the rapidly rising Naluri brand name definitely know a thing or two about striking while the iron is hot. Its co-founder and CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, is certainly no stranger to the dynamic entrepreneurship world as he is an experienced corporate leader with over 20 years under his belt, building new, innovative and disruptive businesses.
More than anything else, however, the whole experience that eventually led to the founding of Naluri owes a lot to the fact that Azran, who holds a Stanford University degree in electrical engineering, among others, possesses the typical inquisitive nature of your run-of-the-mill geek!
“You know, electrical engineers like to say that we are the double-E in geek! The Azran people know today is still the same as young Azran – incredibly curious. I find joy in learning new things and meeting new people. Technology and gadgets are just one part of it. At Stanford, I took the minimum number of classes in electrical engineering to get my degree and used all my electives to take classes in economics, psychology, history and even ballroom dancing and sailing! That’s why I still love to learn about different industries and the best way to discover is to dive in and build businesses, instead of just passively reading about them.”
Today, together with Naluri co-founder Dr Jeremy Ting – who is President of Naluri – and Chief Operating Officer Dr Tiffanie Ong, the company has been growing from strength to strength, and in June, made headlines again when it announced that its services were being expanded to neighbouring Thailand and the Philippines as well.
Previously known as the founding CEO of AirAsia X Bhd, Azran led the long-haul airline offshoot of budget carrier AirAsia from a start-up in 2007, all the way to its IPO six years later, and this was where he helped the company achieve annual revenues of over MYR3 billion, with over 2,500 employees. He was also part of the founding team at Internet video-on-demand service iflix, as its CEO of Malaysia, where he helped to scale it to 650 employees across over 20 countries in a period of just a few years. Now, he is confident of putting his extensive past experiences to very good use at Naluri.
“There are many skills and experiences that I do not have that are critical to the businesses we build,” reveals Azran, “and that’s why I think it’s so important to assemble a strong founding team. You need diverse experiences but also strong shared values, like how to relentlessly experiment and not fixate on the original business plan.
“I gained so much from partnering with the senior director at AirAsia X, Moses Devanayagam, in building up the then new airline. He had spent 36 years in the airline industry, and knew everyone and every nut and bolt that makes a plane fly!” Later, with iflix co-founder Mark Britt, he tapped into the diversified experiences of an industry old hand who successfully built an Internet television business in Australia. “And now, at Naluri, Jeremy brings a wealth of medical and healthcare systems expertise and yet shares very similar values of being data-driven, client-centric, curious and persistent.”
Across all his past professional experiences, Azran unsurprisingly reveals the importance of resilience. After all, many of his ventures have affected by unprecedented global events, including the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and, more recently, COVID-19 pandemic “In the end, we need to be willing to let go of our original ideas and experiment frequently, and adapt the business to find the right product-market fit.”
“Finally, I learned that a business cannot rely on its own strengths, especially in the early stages, and we need to nurture strategic relationships early on with strong partners that believe in our vision. At Naluri, it was our clients and partners like Sumitomo, Pathology Asia and Duopharma, who believed in our vision to reshape the healthcare industry,” reveals Azran proudly, completing a quick trip down memory lane.
Meanwhile, Azran’s partner at Naluri, medical doctor and health systems specialist Dr Jeremy Ting, is perhaps more of a personality that one would typically expect to be a part of a health-related brand like Naluri. “Healthcare and medicine have been integral to me my whole life,” begins the good doctor proudly. “Both my parents are medical doctors and so is my elder brother.”
Dr Ting fondly recalls that studying medicine was the only thing that he ever considered earlier on in life. And after practising for a few years as a medical doctor, he then went on to join international medical consultancy outfit Healthcare Systems & Services. “This was where I had the opportunity to work with clients across the healthcare ecosystem, from health systems, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and medical technology companies – across the United States, Europe and here in Asia,” reveals Dr Ting.
Then, one day, fate brought Dr Ting and Azran together, and the seed that eventually grew into Naluri was sown. “When Azran first conceived of the idea of starting Naluri, he spoke to dozens of people in the industry to see if the problem that he wanted to tackle was relevant and important to them, and whether his proposed approach was different from their own attempts,” recalls Dr Ting.
During that process, Azran reconnected with his former colleagues from McKinsey (Azran was an associate partner there between 2000 and 2003), including one of the senior directors. “So, this director happens to be a mentor of mine, and she realised that both of us had similar views on transforming this industry and connected us,” Dr Ting says.
The two then spent multiple sessions getting to know each other, brainstorming on how they would go about building Naluri, and eventually committed to go into the business full-time, investing their own capital up front to build the first prototype system architecture, before raising Naluri’s first round of investor capital in 2018.
“We started Naluri in 2017 because we saw significant issues with the way care is delivered by existing healthcare providers, specifically for behavioural health and chronic conditions where lifestyles make a significant difference to health outcomes,” continues Dr Ting. He reveals that hospitals and telemedicine services are siloed – they rarely address mental health together with conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart diseases, and yet these conditions are very inter-related.
“So, their services also tend to be reactive and transactional. Both wait for patients to come to them instead of proactively identifying and engaging people when their early symptoms are still mild. And let’s face it, they’re based on transactional consultations, often one-offs. But chronic conditions require structured, on-going care. Not to mention that healthcare payments tend to be based on fee-for-service rather than payment for actual health improvements.
“We saw a need to build a new healthcare model where people can get connected to their team of multidisciplinary healthcare professionals, to coach and guide them to make real improvements to their lifestyles and achieve quantifiable health outcomes. We use technology to make this care model efficient and cost-effective compared to having multiple one-on-one consultations over long time periods.”
Ultimately, though, how does one sell a digital platform that offers health coaching services? Who would you be talking to when offering this product to consumers? Azran is quick to point out that at present, Naluri has its work cut out convincing healthcare payers – corporate employers and insurers – about the effectiveness of the Naluri app. “Not only that, we also do work with healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies, and have retail members that directly subscribe to Naluri’s services.”
Azran goes on to say that when they engage with CEOs and CHROs (Chief Human Resource Officers), their priorities are their employees’ wellbeing, productivity, engagement and performance. He adds: “This pandemic has heightened most business leaders’ awareness of mental health because they see directly the effects of burnout, disengagement, resignations and even suicide attempts.
“Our clients work with us not because we have a specific product or service, but because they see our team as partners who understand their organisations’ unique challenges, take a data-driven approach to quantify the state of employee emotional wellbeing and resilience, and work closely with them to build awareness, engage them to proactively manage their own health, and monitor to make adjustments along the way,” he says proudly.
Azran firmly believes that what makes Naluri particularly appealing and effective is its focus on early and preventative interventions. “There’s a massive demand for our screening and awareness activities, as well as resilience building programmes. Instead of only offering 24/7 crisis helplines and therapy sessions for those already experiencing psychological distress, we offer ways of identifying those at risk and preventing the deterioration of their conditions.
“And we focus on building a culture that makes it a collective responsibility for all employees to learn how to identify signs and symptoms of psychological distress, and to engage their colleagues proactively, to lessen the burdens on those who need support,” he continues.
Finally, Azran also feels that Naluri is fortunate to work with clients who understand the benefits of addressing employee health holistically – that physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. He also points out that in addition to providing access to mental health services, they also see the benefit of quantifying improvements with baseline measurements for their employees.
Measures like blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and more will indicate factors that contribute to rising medical costs, and indirect costs such as sick leave and lost productivity. So, Azran firmly believes that focusing on behavioural health programmes, like sleep management, diet and nutrition, exercise and stress management, can all address both physical and mental health improvements, and quantify them.
“Naluri is about access to qualified and licensed healthcare professionals. The app and other technologies are a means of conveniently getting that access. When someone is enrolled in Naluri, they are assigned to their own health psychologist and a multi-disciplinary team of experts, including doctors, dietitians, fitness coaches, pharmacists, executive coaches and financial planners.” says Azran as he delves further into the technology behind the app.
According to him, it’s this diversified team that coordinates together to support each Naluri member to address the different aspects of their health and life stressors to guide them to achieve their health goals. Communication is either via text-based chat, audio or video calls.
The app also has a number of digital tools that the coaches guide each member to use, so that they can learn more about their health, communicate with coaches more efficiently and track their progress over time. “This includes a large curriculum of bite-sized digital modules to learn about different health concepts, assess one’s situation through various quizzes and tools, or follow instructional guides for self-care.”
There is also a food journal, where uploaded photos of food are analysed with AI-tools and professional dietitians provide personalised feedback, a thought journal to log emotions, reminders for daily actions, and monitoring devices such as Bluetooth-connected weighing scales, blood pressure cuffs and glucometers.
“What sets Naluri apart from the many wellness apps out there is the professional healthcare team that supports each member throughout their journey, and not just through one-off consultations,” Azran says.
Of course, another important question would be how will the app complement traditional patient-doctor relationships? This time, it’s Dr Ting who wades in with a rather detailed explanation: “Naluri often engages with employees and insurance policy holders earlier in their health journey, often before they experience problems that require them to see a doctor.”
Dr Ting explains that doctors see Naluri as a complementary service to provide continuity of care outside of the clinic or hospital. “Doctors typically consult their patients and then instruct them on how to make lifestyle changes and leave it to them to self-manage their care at home. However, we find that about 75% of people do not follow through with their doctor’s advice, whether it’s to make diet or exercise changes, improve sleep habits or address the stressors in their daily lives.”
By working with Naluri, Azran assures that these patients get a professional team to continue their health journey at home and at work, to build healthy habits daily through professional coaching, daily reminders and support whenever they hit inevitable roadblocks or setbacks.
Now in its fifth year, perhaps more than anything else, it’s been the outbreak of the ongoing pandemic that has brought the most focus on the work that Azran and his dedicated and able partners have done at Naluri. Certainly, the pandemic has heightened the need for professional mental healthcare and for chronic disease care, because people with diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure are the most likely to suffer debilitating effects if they contract COVID-19.
Be that as it may, the man leading the team who created this marvel of modern medical care is just taking it all in his stride. “You know, we’re proud and humbled to do our part. At the end of it all, we hope to drive across the fact that digital access that is convenient and affordable plays a key role in reducing infection risk by limiting the need to physically go anywhere,” reveals Azran.
“We exist primarily to serve our members and we hope to continue delivering clinically significant and quantifiable health improvements to help make than one million people in this region at risk of chronic diseases healthier – both in the immediate and long-term.”