Gamification Hits Healthcare as Startups Vie for Cash and Partners

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look at the results and get tips and rewards for improving their health. Only seven out of 202 participants dropped out of the program, Lee says. “That was perceived to be extraordinarily sticky,” he says.

Two years later, the company replicated the results across seven Boston-based employers. In addition, Healthrageous showed that 32 percent of EMC participants achieved a clinically meaningful improvement in their blood pressure, as did 30 percent of participants in the second trial.

Lee says that large insurers are primarily concerned about encouraging good habits in their least healthy members—not in people who are already pre-disposed to exercise and eat right. “They’re not motivated to incentivize a marathon runner to run faster marathons,” he says. “They’re much more focused on type 2 diabetics that are predominantly obese and that are costing thousands of dollars a year in medical expenses. That’s where the financial pain exists in the population.”

UnitedHealth also has several studies under way to measure the impact of gamification on its least healthy members. In one study, for example, the company has given Xboxes to adolescents who are obese and deemed to be on a path to diabetes. United also gave them several games and Microsoft’s Kinect device, which allows players to use body movements to control the games.

“We’re looking to measure whether this helps kids become healthier,” Plourde says. “Does it actually get them moving when historically they weren’t? Or does it potentially become a deterrent? We can’t show any results yet.”

Chris Cartter, general manager of Healthways (NASDAQ: HWAY) subsidiary MeYou Health in Boston, says his company is similarly interested in measuring the degree to which consumers maintain an interest in their health if it’s fun for them to do so. “The core question is, does engagement have a measurable effect?” he says. But Healthways is hoping to broaden its reach beyond just members with chronic illnesses. MeYou Health markets Daily Challenge, a program that rewards members for completing one small health-related task per day, such as “take the salt shaker off your kitchen table,” or “swing an imaginary hula hoop 10 times to the right, then 10 times to the left.” Users can connect with their friends for support on Facebook and Twitter, and win rewards typically seen in videogames, such as tokens that can be used to “unlock” premium health-related content.

Cartter says 75 percent of users are still participating in the program after 30 days, and 30 percent are still engaged after a year. MeYou Health is now piloting the program with five different groups, including a large employer and Blue Shield of California, Cartter says. The company is trying to prove that … Next Page »

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