SHIFT Communications experts discuss all things healthcare and media.

Finding the Gamification Sweet Spot in Health

Dave Levy (@levydr)

I don’t love the word gamification, but rather than fight the jargon, it’s much more interesting to spend the time figuring out exactly what the concept means and how it relates. I won’t pretend that I’m anywhere close to an expert on game theory, but if we boil it down to a simple concept – basic, clear objectives that match incentive with accomplishment – hopefully we can at least explore the application to health mildly-academically.

The example I always think of when it comes to general tech adoption of gamification was the initial appeal of Foursquare‘s badges and, of course, mayorship honors. Even in its earliest stages at SXSW at 2009, the motivation to get into using the app came a lot from these early, completely non-tangible rewards. Obviously, Foursquare has become a force to be reckoned within the LBS space since then, and those badges and mayor discounts turned into a real reason to play the game while connecting with your friends.

Rewards in fitness and health often fall more into the this-is-good-for-you-like-broccoli category over the free-coffee-for-the-mayor one. Getting into shape or becoming healthier should be rewards in their own right, but as we know, that’s not how motivation works for everyone. As even Ernst & Young’s Global Life Sciences Center noted in a report earlier this year, there is a good reason to be using games to expand the motivation factor:

Games are powerful motivators of human behavior, and game designers have a deep understanding of persuasive design. At a time when health care is focused on outcomes and seeking sustainability, the case for gamification has never been stronger.

There are a few different mechanisms we’ve seen to gamify health in the tech space, and it’s going to be something that innovators continue to tackle: after all, you want someone to continue to use your apps after they register or install them. A few noteworthy ways that health is tackling incentive systems:

  • Gympactthe clever app from Pact, Inc., doesn’t want to reward you for getting in gear and using that gym membership you bought. What they do is punish you in a place that hurts when you don’t make it to the workout – your wallet. Miss the gym, and you’ll be donating to a pool of funds that pays the people who fulfill their bargain with the app.
  • Stickk also relies on monetary incentive to get you to your health goals, which range from quitting smoking to maintaining weight or even a custom objective. When you set up your target, you designate a sum of money related to the metric – and who it will be sent to if you don’t reach your goal. Challenge a friend and get them to take you out to dinner with the successful funds or, if you really need motivation, pick a charity that doesn’t align with your personal views.
  • Incentives and games don’t always have to be about money when it comes to health or fitness. RunKeeper‘s goals system gives you constant updates, badges and charts to keep you in the loop as you track toward a distance, frequency or fitness objective. It’s fun to watch the little guy make his way toward the finish line. Seriously.
The more health apps have in common with other popular app trends like gamification, the easier it will be for mainstream consumers to get on board and use them more. Watching how new health apps leverage incentives is sure to be fascinating. And even though the examples above are all related to fitness, let’s home there are innovators out there working to crack the code that could bring game-applications to thins like physical therapy, medicine adherence and chronic condition tracking.

What do you think? What examples of gamification in health did we miss? Where do you think it can be applied next?

(image via.)

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2 thoughts on “Finding the Gamification Sweet Spot in Health

  1. Pingback: Telehealth success is higly reliant on driving adoption: Gamification as one driver « tdfconsultants

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