Spring is arriving, and with it the return of allergies, which are affecting more and more people: according to data from the World Health Organisation, within 10 years more than half of the world’s population will suffer some kind of allergy. This leads to coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, a runny nose and sneezing. With increasing amounts of pollution, this and other respiratory diseases are part of many people’s day-to-day lives.

How to look after our respiratory health is very important, and the founders of Zensei have created a mobile application that facilitates this task. “Zensei is a  daily app for respiratory patients, and its objective is to improve their quality of life by alerting them to everything that is happening in the environment that could affect them,” explains the co-founder David Martín-Corral.

The app advises you of external factors such as very high amounts of pollen, the weather, the UV index, pollution levels, and if applicable it alerts you to possible viruses. In this way, patients with asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) and allergies can know in advance and from the comfort of their own home what the outside environment is like, and they can act accordingly. “With this we can predict and avoid respiratory crises,” adds Martín-Corral.

In addition, it provides the patient with a place to make a note of their state of health, their symptoms, habits, how they are feeling and if they are taking their medication properly. Martín-Corral recognises the importance of treating all these data with care: “We use them with great sensitivity,” he says.

The technology behind Zensei includes complex systems, digital epidemiology, big data and machine learning applied to the prevention of health risks. The app is fed by data collected by the device. “We model the environment and see what its effects are through mobile phone sensors and digital data,” says the co-founder.

With this app that enhances quality of life for those affected by respiratory diseases, they also spotted a way of helping insurers to reduce patients’ health costs. Martín-Corral and his associate and fellow co-founder of Zensei, Carlos Hernando, set out to create a preventative digital health insurer. They studied the topic and saw that there was interest: “We had interviews with users and doctors, and we realised that there really was a niche of respiratory patients who were waiting for a service like this.”

Now they are working in MAPFRE’s insur_space to see how they can implement this idea. “Insurers have to control costs for these patients. Until now, health care management has been done reactively: when you reach a certain level of expenditure your therapy is changed,” suggests Martin-Corral. Their objective is to automate this and be proactive. “By implementing this kind of proactive intervention, we can save up to 10 million euros for an insurer with half a million insured customers”.

For Zensei, being in insur_space helps them to learn up close about the health insurance sector. Its objective is to “offer a value proposition to MAPFRE that will help them to save costs and improve their service to these patients.”

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