Health Games: Why Hospitals Should Play

flickr: spwelton

Last week I came across an interesting article (via Twitter) The Gamification of Healthcare and What it Means for Mobile by Michael Spitz.  It’s a comprehensive look at “gamification” and how it is being used in healthcare.

According to Spitz, gamification is the use of “game design techniques and mechanics to connect and engage with audiences in an otherwise non-gaming environment.” In his article, he makes the argument that the prevalence of mobile phones has shaped a landscape ripe for the gamification of healthcare, and gives examples of recent programs.

The topic of healthcare gamification is closely related to captology, (computers as persuasive technologies) and reminded me of a blog post I wrote on the subject based on B.J. Fogg’s book Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.

How gamification relates to captology

The book describes captology, and explores the area where computers and persuasion overlap. An example of captology would be those large digital signs on the side of the road that display car speeds to prompt drivers to obey the speed limit.

I have two recent personal experiences with the gamification/captology of healthcare. I recently downloaded an app to help me count calories (seems sitting in front of your computer for hours-on-end writing a dissertation puts on the pounds!).

To my delight, this new app also gave me the opportunity to record my activities, and then automatically charted my calories burned vs. calories consumed. It also displayed the amount of calories I had “left” for the day to stick to my weight loss plan, and graphically depicted my weight so I could watch it inch downward.

Example: A fitness app with value-added information

The app also gave me value-added information, like reminding me to drink more water and cut back on my sodium intake. I found myself taking an extra walk to see if I could beat my burned calories from the day before.

Even though the app didn’t have a social media sharing capability (which would be an interesting addition), I downloaded the app for my husband so I could compete with him in daily calories burned (O.K., my competitive side is showing). The app was fun, and it helped keep me motivated.

Another example: “health age” survey

The second example was an online health survey that promised to compare my chronological age with my “health age.” After I got the results (my health age is two years younger than my actual age), I began to consider the survey.

I was surprised (and a bit disappointed in myself) as to how much personal information I was willing to share all because I was curious to know the outcome. (And the targeted health-related emails have begun to fill my inbox!)

These two personal examples, along with the information presented by Spitz and Fogg, have convinced me of the great potential for health care gamification. However, strategically, I think insurance, pharma and health equipment manufacturers will beat hospitals to the health game innovations.

Prediction: Hospitals slow to adopt health game innovations

There are several reasons: 1) the potential for data mining in health games has great value, 2) the branding possibilities associated with these games would be of great value and 3) hospitals are historically slow to adopt new social media approaches (check out Ed Bennett’s Hospital Social Network List).

However, there is also great potential for partnerships, a strategy I would advocate. Having a hospital associated with a game that promotes health and wellness would be strongly related to the hospital’s core mission and be a positive community relations tool. Hospital partners could also mandate constraints on data mining that would enhance credibility and add security to the tools.

These health game partnerships could pave the way for multiple studies of these new tools and help healthcare providers better understand patient compliance, motivation and other factors closely linked to health and wellness. Healthcare gamification has the real potential to benefit patients … and hospitals should be encouraged to come out and play!


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