President Obama’s latest proposal to fix healthcare demands that every American carries health insurance. The legislation is controversial.  It will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, debated by talking heads, and contested on couches and in coffee shops across the land as the 2012 election unfolds.


But as experts in Washington determine the fate of healthcare’s future, consider this: would America be healthier if good health behavior was a game?

For centuries, game makers have studied human behavior. And their observations have led to the invention of game mechanics—things like points, levels, challenges and leaderboards—in an effort to keep their players playing.

Healthcare marketing is no different. There are certain behaviors we want people to continue, and others we want people to change:  Exercise more. Smoke less. Eat better. Take your meds.

But historically, marketers have tried to solve these problems with one-way communication. Gamification provides an alternative. It turns the mundane into an engaging experience.

Gamification is the application of game mechanics and game thinking to solve problems and change behavior. And better health behavior is a high-growth opportunity—$2.5 trillion to be exact. It cuts across categories including hospitals and health systems, insurance, physicians, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

Some brands are getting in on the game, too.

-Weight Watchers revolutionized weight loss with the help of a points system.
-Livestrong’s MyQuitCoach issues a dare to help smokers kick the habit.
-Aquafresh’s “Time2Brush” app takes the monotony out of oral care and makes kids want to brush.

Each of these examples uses game design to influence the consumer. For the global toothpaste brand, Aquafresh, the game design includes components like:

-Motivation:  Kids receive virtual goods to customize their own brushing experience.
-Victory condition: Kids win when they brush for the full two minutes.
-Game mechanics:  Each stage of brushing is broken up into four “levels.”
-Social influence:  Because the brushing game typically lives on Mom’s smartphone, it’s she who brings “players” together every morning and every evening.

Add a layer of mobile technology and these behaviors can be influenced anytime, anywhere. Add a social layer and humans become influenced by their peers and networks. But it’s the game layer that keeps kids brushing.

The Compliance Game

According to “A Review of Barriers to Medication Adherence” (Rand, 2009), 20 to 80% of patients in the U.S. do not adhere to prescribed medical therapies. Why?

-People simply forget to follow the regimen
-People forget why they need to adhere to the regimen
-People are lazy
-The  instructions are not followed properly
-Results are difficult to track and faith is lost in the regimen

Technology can help close the gap, particularly with mobile phones, which are typically on a person all day long. And while gamification can’t make a chronic disease ‘fun,’ it can get the “player” engaged and improve his/her mental state while on the path to better health.

Employee Wellness

As health care expenditures continue to rise, employers, too, can benefit from game design.

Last week, our agency held a Wellness Day. I received a flu shot, had my blood pressure taken, and was asked a handful of questions:

Do you exercise regularly? Yep.

Do you manage healthy levels of fat intake?  Usually, but I fell off the wagon at Sunday’s tailgate.

Do you get five daily servings of fruits and veggies? Um. No.

Are you a non-smoker? Yep.

Do you moderate drinking?  I’m in advertising, remember?

If we do these things, we get a break on our health coverage. What game mechanics would motivate us to comply? Could points, levels or challenges change our habits for the better? Gamification designers: that’s your challenge.

Challenge Shaun Quigley with a question or comment @squigster or at http://www.BHiveLab.com

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