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Is Gamification Key to Taming Healthcare Costs?

09.03.2013
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Rising healthcare costs are a problem most of the western world is facing.  The baby boomer generation is beginning to retire en masse, and with it many funding models are being called into question.

Healthcare companies Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota believe one possible answer could be found in gamifying healthcare.  They’ve conducted a pilot program recently to test just that hypothesis, with fascinating results.

The pilot was branded as Healthcare University, and used videos quizzes and other game mechanics to try and make educating consumers easier and more effective.

The pilot saw Blue Cross and Blue Shield use their own employees as guinea pigs for Healthcare University.  The aim was to sign up 20% of its employees to the program, but they ended up exceeding that target by over 90%.  Each registrant went on to complete an average of eight courses on topics such as health insurance basics, benefits selection, billing and ways to save.

The plan now is to roll out Healthcare University to members of Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

“Change Healthcare’s unique approach to benefits education has allowed us to maximize engagement with our employees and ensure they are prepared for the coming changes in healthcare,” said David Corkum, senior vice president of commercial markets.

With studies showing that less than 20% of employees typically understand their health benefits, it’s increasingly important to find an effective way of educating people about what is available to them.  As consumers move to both public and private exchanges, understanding pricing variations will become even more important. Healthcare University will help teach consumers about the price variations that exist in the marketplace and helps drive down costs by demonstrating the advantages of weighing cost, quality and convenience when shopping for care.

“As healthcare reform rolls out, it’s more important than ever to provide benefits education to consumers,” said Clayton Nicholas, vice president of strategy and marketing at Change Healthcare.

They are not the first to venture into the gamification of healthcare of course.  UnitedHealth Group have the smart phone app OptumizeMe, which encourages users to participate in fitness related contests with their friends.  They have also been testing Join For Me, which is a program to encourage teenagers to play games that require physical activity.

Schemes like this join the plethora of fitness related services on the market.  The likes of Fitocracy and Strava allow people to track their workouts and compete against their friends.

There are suppliers out there for slightly more serious issues however.  GameMetrix Solutions for instance have developed games to help the management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

A major challenge for suppliers is in maintaining the privacy of patients.  Health providers are bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires them to conceal personal health information related to all patients in their care.  The rules aren’t quite so black and white for companies that don’t provide direct patient care, but nevertheless privacy remains an issue to be considered.

As with most applications of game mechanics, the key is to apply it correctly in order to achieve the best results, but its use in healthcare is certainly an interesting one to monitor.  If it can begin to deliver results both in terms of cost reductions and health improvements, then it will be a significant step forward for the industry.

Original post

Published at DZone with permission of its author, David Austin.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)