Patient engagement is one of the most pressing issues in healthcare today–and arguably one of the biggest potential game-changers in the battle for patient wellness. The physician–a patient’s most trusted advisor–has the ability to reach members at the moment of care. As a strategy for population health improvement, fostering the member-physician relationship can be highly effective. Reaching, engaging and equipping providers to engage with patients are essential tactics to bending the cost trend and delivering better quality of care through greater provider accountability.
Gamification is a psychological tool through which the basic “sticky” principles of board games and video games can be applied to several different programs, businesses, and courses in order to make them appear more like a game. People have been familiar with gamification since elementary school. A good performance earns a gold star. Mind you, a gold star is just a tiny metallic piece of litho stock paper, but when gamified and presented as an incentive, a task becomes less tedious and more fun, giving the gold star significantly more value than one would expect. The brilliance that lies in gamification is how simple these tasks actually are. By displaying badges, increasing levels of achievement, and producing leader boards, psychology has told us people should be much more intrigued, engaged, and willing to complete the task at hand.
Imagine gamification being applied to patient engagement. What if the patient engagement piece of the value-based patient-centered medical home (PCMH) concept were given certain elements and incentives to make patients care more about their health and adhere more closely to their healthcare programs? PCMH is designed to introduce accountability for ensuring coordinated care across the healthcare continuum. Early adopters of this model report superior clinical outcomes, more satisfied patients, and lower total cost of care. Health plans are quickly moving to PCMH. Introducing the gamification element to patient engagement to continue to foster superior clinical outcomes would be a win-win for all members of the healthcare value chain.
The idea of having to transform one’s virtual health center into a virtual N64 just to make a patient care about their health may appear a rather pessimistic way to look at health care, but in reality, it is a breath of fresh air. If a progress bar, point system, or even simple animations were added to one’s treatment plan, an increase in engagement–subliminal or conscious–should result. If “healthy things” and “fun things” were internally processed on the same plane, chances are that the patient would become healthier. By gamifying a patient’s healthcare plan in an online portal that could easily be accessed through an application on a mobile device or portal, people would be much more likely to have better “health behavior.” Affecting not only patients, but physicians, health plan workers, and other healthcare professionals, gamification would encourage more people to seek healthcare, leading to an increased amount of traffic on these online portals or applications.
Companies are developing applications to connect basic healthcare and promote increased social interaction with physicians while producing a virtual display that gamifies their product (think a gamified PCMH). The application would take the social interaction of Facebook and the animation of a video game, while encompassing the appropriate level of professionalism and security a healthcare provider or plan should maintain. Humana engages patients in a virtual “Vitality Age” assessment. “Humanaville” is a virtual neighborhood that securely connects seniors over the age of 65 with health and wellness resources. It is an entire virtual town that includes a library, health clinic, fitness center, a restaurant with food suggestions, and a “town square” interactive main menu. Although to some Humanaville may come off as extraneous to the basic concept of maintaining good health, it stands as a jumping off point for patients reluctant to embrace their care or treatment programs.
Many other companies are finding ways to include healthcare in the trend of specialized social media. Shape Up, for example, uses the platform of “social networking, gaming, and incentives to improve health care.” Companies like Health Prize, EveryFit, and Contagion Health also are producing gamification-style, health-focused portals offering a social interactive experience that one can engage in with friends, family, and medical professionals.
Patient engagement using gamification principles is not a silver bullet or fail-proof solution to the healthcare dilemma, but it certainly should improve patient wellness. Many different industries ranging from employee training to online fitness portals to financial service websites have employed these principles to engage their customers. With all of these industries jumping on an age-old concept to boost business, healthcare is poised to join the world of patient engagement through gamification. The technology is available, and the idea is fresh. Expect to hear much more on gamification in the near future.
University of Denver
Class of 2013