Jeff Ruby, the founder and CEO of health engagement startup Newtopia, contributes this point of view on how personalized gamification can maximize user participation in disease prevention programs:
Within 15 years, the American Heart Association estimates that costs in the U.S. for cardiovascular disease will triple – approaching $800 billion annually. Similarly within 10 years, half of all Americans will have type II diabetes or pre-diabetes increasing costs to $500 billion annually. With both heart disease and type II diabetes being almost entirely preventable, the question isn’t whether or not disease prevention programs are a necessity, but rather how can these programs maximize participant engagement to drive down healthcare costs.
Gamification: Improving a Hot Trend
In the last few years gamification has emerged as one of the hottest topics in healthcare. Providing a playful interface based on proven game dynamics, gamification attempts to combine entertainment with goal oriented tasks to increase engagement and reduce disease. Currently, most workplace health programs include some form of gamification. The problem is that very few programs include one key feature: personalization.
The reality is, the point of gaming is to engage, motivate, spark interest, and excite the user so that they are more likely to begin and to sustain participation. How can this be done properly if a game does not understand what “specifically” turns the user on?
The question isn’t whether or not disease prevention programs are a necessity, but rather how can these programs maximize participant engagement to drive down costs.
General Gamification vs Personalized Gamification
A disease prevention program may use general gamification – or a one-size-fits-all approach – to create a platform which captures the competitive side of some individuals. In doing so, movement via activity challenges in which a pre-set number of steps taken or miles covered are tracked. For an optimal effect, users would receive instant feedback indicating their personal progress as well as a leaderboard outlining where they stand compared to others. The element of competition is highlighted and the user’s changing status is emphasized. The goal – in this case to move more – is achieved through the social aspect of the challenge, the playful design of the platform and the competitive nature of the individual. The problem – not all users are motivated by competition or a leaderboard.
A personalized gamification program takes these features to the next level. This program will identify whether or not the individual is even motivated by competition. Perhaps the user enjoys identifying and reaching personal goals through real-time social reinforcement messaging and the encouragement of daily action items by the program itself and by other users. Perhaps this user becomes de-motivated by the constant comparison to peers.
Also, most generalized games in healthcare use a generic guideline – 10,000 steps per day challenge – rather than personal milestones. While promoting activity is crucial, the amount of steps should vary depending on initial fitness and health levels. It could also be that the individual isn’t interested in walking/running but prefers swimming, yoga, or cycling. Maybe the user has a goal to ride down the California coast, improve the quality of a movement, or to increase their best swimming interval. Personalized gamification can allow an individual to engage in a goal – in this case a fitness goal – that interests them in a way that motivates them.
A final required feature in personalized gamification is immersion reality. The more a user can feel immersed in their virtual reality, the more engaging the experience will be. Between the visuals and messaging to the atmosphere these programs create, the user is meant to feel connected to the real life and real time information that is being conveyed. Similar to a GPS detailing where, how far, and how fast you are travelling, personalized gamification in health can also involve links to other social networks where live feeds invite friends to cheer you on or share in your progress – should you wish.
Personalized gamification can allow an individual to engage in a goal – in this case a fitness goal – that interests them in a motivating way.
What Are We Waiting For?
Healthcare costs are soaring. While generic wellness programs are increasing in number, few have the evidence based content, personalized engagement, or dynamic features to make a dent in the frequency and severity of chronic disease. Recently a few disease prevention programs have shown promise in educating and empowering at-risk users to make healthier lifestyle choice. These programs are progressing even further by addressing the largest contributor to success – sustained engagement and outcomes.
Personalized gamification maximizes engagement via a number of techniques most notably personalizing the form of game the user experiences, addressing the need for community, and providing an instant or real time feedback system. Getting to an n of 1 approach to disease prevention is our best chance of stopping the wave and stemming the cost of chronic disease.