May 6, 2013

Gamifying Healthcare: A New Trend

eyesight chart and manMany would attribute gaming as a cause to the increase in obesity in our country since it confines people to sitting on their couches and staring at screens rather than being active. However, as gamification’s popularity skyrockets, people even in the healthcare industry are realizing it can be used to motivate weight loss and other health-related issues. Let’s face it, our society likes the engagement that games bring and the resulting rewards we can earn when we do well. Maybe it’s because we don’t get enough ‘pat on the backs’ at work or a ‘job well done’ after doing the dishes so we crave games to fill that void. Whatever the reason may be, gamification has been proven to boost productivity and results, making it a worthwhile investment to consider, especially in the healthcare industry.

Major health companies like Aetna, Cigna Health, and Wellpoint have picked up on this trend and created their own games for wellness programs. For example, Blue Shield created its Daily Challenge “Me, You, Health” which uses social media to add excitement to their wellness program. It incorporates a wide range of activities besides just exercise, including tips/tasks centered on improving emotional and mental health, which improves overall wellness. Blue Shield’s programs also provide motivation by allowing participants to earn points, badges, status, and watch their progress. Combined with its other wellness programs, Blue Shield has had 80% employee participation with a correlated 50% drop in smoking prevalence, hypertension falling by 66%, and a smaller number of disability claims. Besides just having healthier and happier employees, these huge health improvements help companies save in insurance premiums and decrease paid sick days.

However, it is unrealistic for every company, especially small businesses, to design their own wellness game and that is when companies like Keas come in to play. Keas can provide your company with a software platform that allows your employees to also compete in games to improve their lifestyle through a similar process of rewards and incentives. Keas reports that 35% of employees in companies that use their service will take part and although this number might not be as high as BlueShield’s participation rate, it will still lower a company’s average risk profile for all employees. Also, it provides an atmosphere that encourages teamwork and can also support healthy lifestyle competitions that offer prizes to entice increased participation. On a more personal level, Team Wellness Challenge is a free online service that tracks individual health and wellness goals. It also allows you to invite friends and family to provide competition which produces increased results.  As you can tell, the business of providing a way to gamify wellness programs is rapidly growing, increasing the choices for both companies and individuals to engage upon.

Besides being used in companies’ wellness programs, gamification can also be used to treat specific medical conditions and aid in rehabilitation. The University Orthopedic Center in Salt Lake City has used Wii Fit as a physical therapy tool to treat patients suffering from equilibrium issues. Other facilities have also implemented Wii Fit and similar games to help patients improve motor functions. They notice that these games can engage patients in a new and exciting way, ultimately increasing their motivation and improving their prognosis. Also, doctors can gamify a patient’s medication use by giving them an individualized plan that is easy to monitor and track progress.  All of these gaming techniques can improve a patient’s treatment and recovery by offering an exciting new avenue in medical treatment.

With the promise that gamification can bring for the healthcare industry we must change any preconceived notions about gaming being a negative lifestyle. If implemented correctly, it can actually motivate and engage people to participate in healthier activities. Companies can use gamification in wellness programs to encourage employee participation and eventually, lower healthcare premiums. Rehabilitation centers could also use gamification to increase and improve motor skills by offering a new and exciting way to engage patients. Regardless of the specific use, the healthcare industry is noticing gamification’s benefits and using it to find new ways to motivate healthy lifestyles.

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