The gamification of healthcare


This was a week where the potential of buying an Amazon book with Amazon voice enablement to read in the revolutionary new Amazon healthcare facility before buying Amazon prescriptions on the AWS cloud, and then getting dinner ingredients at Amazon Whole Foods became reality.

As one who has had the opportunity to work with some of these Amazon divisions over the years, I know that the thought of the electronic commerce giant’s new venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan can set the healthcare industry’s collective hair on fire. Much of the consternation is in the mystery of what this venture even means. Most of the pieces written this week were “predicting” that whatever it is will be completely transformative or revolutionary. I haven’t seen a single yawn.

One of the predictions that got my attention was that gamification could be a central element in the Amazon employee wellness culture under the new model.

Now the concept of gamification isn’t new in any industry. I’ve seen it used in segments ranging from military and manufacturing to supply chain and marketing. Clearly, healthcare is ripe for gamification given its wide-ranging potential to reward people for changing their behavior.

We know how these kinds of games feel. Many of us were addicted to the early days of Foursquare where we were obsessed by being awarded mayor of our local pub, office, restaurant or Starbucks simply by checking in . . . over and over again. I saw people going through “mayor rage” when someone who never went to an establishment gamed the system and bumped them from the position. We now see it with “step envy” among people who compete on their personal fitness device platforms.

Like with virtual reality, there are hundreds of gamification initiatives that are embarrassingly uninspired. And to be honest, many efforts in the wellness segment don’t need to be complicated. Having a portal for the billing department to track its collective weight loss versus the sales department doesn’t really need to be complicated.

One of the classic “beauty in its simplicity” gamification examples is Piano stairs, designed to encourage commuters to exercise by taking the subway stairs instead of the escalator. The stairs were converted into a piano keyboard so that stepping on each one would result in a note.

But digital transformation and mobile devices raise the bar for gamification strategy, as they do for every aspect of the enterprise.

A digital healthcare example is the mobile mySugr Junior app that “enables parents to keep control over the therapy even when they are not around their child. The app looks like a game but encourages kids to proactively take care of their condition.”

The thought of games converging with Alzheimer’s stretches the limits somewhat, but Akili’s Evo game design tests players on how well they cope with cognitive interference (distractions), which is important for functioning in real life, especially when it comes to the self-care and safety of Alzheimer’s patients and children with sensory processing disorder (SPD).

“During the game, the player tilts the iPad or iPhone device in order to steer an alien down a river. Distractions appear in the form of a fish or a bird. And players need to tap the screen every time this happens. This performance data is then collected, assessed, and measured against the predetermined standards.”

Finally, Re-Mission 2 games “help kids and young adults with cancer take on the fight of their lives. Based on scientific research, the games provide cancer support by giving players a sense of power and control and encouraging treatment adherence.”

The difference with all of the examples above is that they take gamification beyond a simple binary experience and add a level of emotional engagement.

Have you experienced a gamification initiative that took the functionality beyond binary rewards and into a truly interactive and meaningful environment that truly changes behavior?










  1. Lynn Christofferson says:

    Hail, Jane McGonigal!

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