Gamification Hits Healthcare as Startups Vie for Cash and Partners

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its program produces a significant return on investment, in the form of reduced absenteeism and other measurable metrics. MeYou Health just finished enrolling 1,500 people into a controlled clinical trial to measure the effectiveness of Daily Challenge, Cartter says.

One advantage of being part of a larger health organization like Healthways is access to both capital and a built-in customer base. MeYou Health, for example, has enrolled 230,000 people in Daily Challenge and has support from its parent company to measure the results of the program and develop other products.

Some independent startups are slowly catching on, including Fitocracy, which has 450,000 members, co-founder and CEO Brian Wang says. But its creators admit they’re not entirely sure how they’re going to make money in the business of gamifying health care. “Revenue is not a huge focus right now,” Wang says. The company does take some advertising and it offers a $5-a-month premium membership, he says, but most members participate for free. “Our core strategy has to be about building a huge and awesome platform,” he says.

GymPact nabbed 43,000 sign-ups purely through word of mouth, founder and CEO Yifan Zhang says, but she recognizes the importance of finding partners to fuel the company’s revenue growth. GymPact currently takes a small cut of the rewards it pays to members who exercise. The company is now working with a handful of health plans to set up pilots, including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

“We definitely need to find a way to work with insurers and employers,” Zhang says. “They are looking for ways to incentivize their members to exercise.”

Healthways’ Cartter predicts the most successful business models will be the ones that derive revenues from health industry players—not directly from consumers. That will require startups to prove they’re offering something truly valuable.

“The primary goal is to engage people in their everyday health and wellness, but they’re not going to be the payers,” he says. “What, then, is your ability to measure that engagement and correlate it to meaningful metrics that a payer is going to pay for, whether it’s a health plan, an employer, a health system, or a hospital system?”

No doubt, there’s still plenty of room for partnering in the health gamification sector. United’s Plourde says his company is paying close attention to the plethora of startups, and it may consider forming deals with some of them down the line to boost its internal programs.

“We know there’s a lot of good thinking out there,” he says. “We’re trying to create a platform that will allow us to tap into that and bring it into this whole ecosystem of health gamification.”

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  • Alexei Levit

    Wow it would be great if I got paid every time I went to the gym. If the startup building that Rock The Post is in had a gym and had this process life would be healthier! 

  • JaneM

    There is a definitely something fishy going on with Cartter’s (MeYouHealth) claim that “30% are still engaged after a year” considering at this year’s Game Developer Conference they indicated that only 1% made it past the first 100 days. 

    • Bill

      Hi Jane, are you referring to Michael Kim’s talk at GDC 2012 in the Games for Change track? Unfortunately, Michael misquoted the data that I shared with him. I created 5 slides for him but he probably only had room to show the one with a screen grab of Daily Challenge. 

      I’ll try to clarify things. At that time, 1,730 members had completed their challenge every single day for 100+ days. That is the 1% of our population that Michael was probably referring to. Check out the attached slide. 

      Chris Cartter was referring to engagement, not streaking mechanics. We define engagement as completing any one of the following four metrics each week: 1. Visit MeYou Health website, 2. Compete a challenge, 3. Read a challenge email or reminder, or 4. Encourage other members. 

  • Papharmacy Shasek

    We are a startup that has its mission to be a catalyst for integrating business models like this into an entire geographic community. We harness the least active individuals, their wellness challenge and reluctance to exercise to the physician prescribing exercise – then providing the menu of tools for compliance – exactly like GymPact. Contact us to join the PA Pharmacy initiative

  • JaneM

    Yup, that was the one. Michael didn’t misquote it then but Chris is lumping in these other actions, got it. 

    Thanks for the clarification. Can you share how much the 2nd “Complete a Challenge” metric accounts for out of the 30%?

    • Bill Sabram

      I’d be happy to talk with you about this sometime. Completing a challenge is just one of the data metrics that make up our engagement model. Michael’s misquote about our members with 100+ day streaking mechanics has confused this thread. Speaking in person or on the phone is awesome. – Bill Sabram