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Plans will see a return on investment by effectively engaging members with gamification strategies
Gamification is becoming an increasingly prevalent strategy in global organizations of all types, but in order for it to be a successful and sound investment in healthcare, experts say it needs to be targeted, well-designed and directly linked to a plan’s business objectives or goals.
Robert H. Booz, vice president and distinguished analyst for healthcare industries research at Gartner, says he believes that 70% of Forbes Global’s 2,000 organizations are exploring a game-based application as part of a client engagement strategy.
In 2016, businesses will spend an estimated $2.8 billion on gamification, according to a gamification market report by M2 Research, a market research and strategic consulting company.
One main driver of gamification in healthcare is to promote consumer engagement, which could help reduce the cost of care and prevalance of chronic disease.
“A significant portion can be prevented with changes in behavior, and consumer engagement is key to that,” says Dennis Schmuland, MD, FAAFP, chief health strategy officer for the U.S. Health and Life Sciences division of Microsoft. “We’re seeing gamification kind of blend into this bigger concept and the necessity of consumer engagement.”
In addition to the growing role of consumerism in healthcare, certain key factors in today’s society-a population that grew up with game dynamics, and a dramatic increase in the use of mobile devices-make the timing right for plans to join the gamification movement, says Mark Boxer, executive vice president and chief information officer for Cigna.
“You have this set of dynamics right now that allow us to apply gamification techniques into making health fun, interesting and relevant for the customer,” he says.
Despite market conditions, Booz says that some health insurance executives tend to think of frivolity when they hear the term “gamification,” but he says that doesn’t fully encompass everything the strategy offers the industry.
“What gamification really means is taking some of the attributes that games have and using them to convert it to knowledge. So having multiple levels of achievement, having competition with others around levels of achievement, those are gaming factors,” he says.
Experts say that gamification can be as simple as a health risk assessment, which provides a score to those who take it. Adding fun, graphic elements to the assessment, as well as embedding incentives and rewards not only engages the consumer and promotes responsibility for their health, it also gives plans an opportunity to identify and stratify risk.
“The beauty of technology is that there’s so many ways to track information,” says Paul Cummings, senior fellow in the center for advanced learning systems for ICF International, a company that provides technology solutions for clients. “When you think about it, what you are really trying to do is tie those motivators to data that you can collect.”
Gamification techniques can also be used to address chronic diseases such as diabetes, promote ongoing coaching and outreach programs, and to train medical professionals.
“They’ve been used along the entire continuum from education right through ongoing management,” Boxer says.
He adds that Cigna’s interest in gamification can be traced back to 2006 when the company joined forces with HopeLab to create a game called “Remission,” which targets children diagnosed with cancer and helps them take ownership of their care plans and educate them about the disease.
Cummings has been involved in numerous game projects over the years and says the key is to elicit behavior change. Gaming elements must be engaging, carefully targeted and crafted for specific learning objectives.
“We’ll say, ‘what are your learning objectives? What are you really trying to get out of this, and how should we present this information?’” Cummings says. “Should it be just knowledge on a page? We call that didactic information. Should it be psychomotor skills? Is the way that we want to reinforce behavior having them go through something that’s very realistic, or is it game-focused and maybe they pick up little cues along the way?”
Schmuland says Microsoft has learned that information alone doesn’t change behavior.
“What we’ve really learned is that if you can help people do what they already want to do by making what they want to do easier, more enjoyable and rewarding, then they are more likely to engage in health,” he says. “And gamification is a way of getting all three of those things.”
Gamification can be used as one element of a larger strategy. For example, one recent study looked at the impact of adding active video gaming to a successful community weight management program for children. While one group participated in the 16-week family-based pediatric weight management program, the other group was also given a game console and two active games during the study period.
Researchers found that those participants in the active gaming group had a significant increase of 7.5 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, and also had significantly greater reductions in the percentage of overweight participants compared to the control group.
“Games can be effective, but they are far more effective when they are embedded within a context of a larger program that involves professional coaching, social interaction, commitment and the ability to see and monitor results over time,” Schmuland says.
A potential pitfall for plans is creating games just for the sake of adding gamification to their strategy. For gamification to be successful, it must be carefully crafted to address a specific objective, engage the target population in the way they want to be engaged, include incentives and promote positive health behaviors.
“There needs to be a business case for it,” Boxer says. “At the end of the day, if it’s not driving toward a business objective then it’s interesting, but it’s not relevant.”
Addionally, hiring a qualified staff who can produce high-quality games that maintain user interest is essential.
“The people who are focused on game development, game mechanics and the user experience are not people who have traditionally been within the IT organization,” Boxer says. “These are people who have grown up with game experiences. They understand the mechanics. They understand how to make it interesting and relevant, and those are not the traditional set of IT skills. It’s a new set of skills.”
During the development process, companies need to research their target population to develop a gamification strategy and undertand how they want to reach it, says Mary Carter, principal in marketing practice of ICF international.
“From a marketing standpoint, you have to know who you are talking to-not all consumers or audiences are the same,” she says. “Designing something that is based on research and having an understanding of who you are designing it for, what motivates that audience and what engages them is a key element as well.”
Once the idea for a game or application is created, Cummings says that it’s important to create a prototype to test with a sample target audience before companies invest significant money in a particular message or strategy.
“There are times where gamification might not work,” he says. “It might just not be the right audience, there might be too many other games that are creating noise in the community and you’re just playing catch up at that point.”
Successful games can have significant business advantages for plans where consumer satisfaction and engagement is necessary.
“As a consumer goes through their journey and has interaction points with the health plan, having an engaging game that proves value to the consumer could be a definite point of delight and something that contributes to retention as well,” Carter says.
Another strategy allows plans to collect vital data that can help them evaluate the success of the effort, demonstrate any changes in the health of their population and target management efforts.
Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.