Health Gamified

We hear lots of talk these days about games and gamification. We hear the negative and fearful (“video games make our children violent”) and we hear the positive and forward-looking (“gamifying a given aspect of our business has resulted in a significant increase in engagement”). Of course, we cannot compare first-person shooter games with enterprise gamification on the same level. Games are as different in their design and content as they are in their user base and ultimate impact. Those games developed for business or professional settings are called “serious games,” typically defined as games designed for purposes other than pure entertainment, such as teaching, training, scenario planning, memorization, learning new skills, positively changing behavior, and so on.

Healthcare is no stranger to gamification. Numerous serious games have already been developed for a wide variety of conditions, from asthma to stroke awareness; for various purposes, from health assessments to wellness programs; and for diverse audiences, from kids to adults. The results are in and they are impressive:

• Dryathlon, a game created by Cancer Research UK that engages participants in not drinking alcohol in the month after Christmas, raised 4 million and tapped into a brand new fundraising audience: men

• PatientPartner by CyberDoctor, whose intent is to boost adherence to treatment plans, increased medication adherence by 37% in one clinical study, and from 58% to 95% in another

• When Cigna gamified their health assessment tool, the completion rate jumped from 30% to 90%

• With Wellvolution, an employee program that includes several game apps, Blue Shield of California saw an 80% participation rate and a 50% drop in smoking

Result: annual growth of health costs for employees decreased to single digits.

How do you set up, and then measure, game ROI?

As nice as these numbers are, in order to get buy-in from upper management, you need to show not just the results but demonstrate that those results are real and how you get there.

Mario Herger, a gamification expert and author of several books on the topic, points to the critical importance of implementing the right KPI’s (key performance indicators) from the start. For example, rewarding a certain timeframe of completion may drive participants to focus on completing a game as fast as possible without paying attention to or experiencing the content as it was intended. Setting as a goal a certain number of specific actions may result in participants performing said action as many times as possible without attending to the other actions that are in fact an even more essential element of the game or gamified experience.

Wrong KPI’s might get you the right numbers (“We surpassed our target participation/completion numbers!”) but they are likely to produce the wrong impact (“People are still doing X when the game was supposed to inspire them to do Y…”)

“Avoid rewards as much as possible,” says Herger. “Give participants feedback, make the tasks interesting, or design fantasy themes that are engaging. Define an indirect goal that’s more interesting than your actual goal—then you’ll reach that actual goal.”

To complete the picture, make sure you’ve got the “before” as well as the “after” data. The HR staff should have enough of the hard data you’ll need to make appropriate comparisons as early as four to five weeks into the game: ie how many people took sick leave in the past year, what types of healthcare issues are usually submitted to insurance and how often, and so on. Measure soft and hard data throughout the game or activity, and above all, make sure to leverage the early data to fine-tune the game still further. Be open to, and in fact on the lookout for, unintended results and consequences, which can be positive or negative, and see if a given variable, element or factor correlates with any other.

Alan Wang
Alan Wang
Alan Wang is the President of UBF and serves as the lead consultant. He has delivered the UBF solution set throughout the world and is highly regarded for his areas of expertise. You can follow him on Twitter @UBFconsulting.
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