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Ask the Expert: How to Create a Successful Mobile Health Gamification Experience

Scott Schnaars is a technology and internet sales, business development and operations professional with a passion for technology, writing & golf. Throughout his career, Scott has held various positions within companies such as Borland, WebEx, Motorola & Yahoo!  Currently, Scott is head of sales at Badgeville, the leading behavior management firm, which is a partner of Perficient.

Tell me a little bit about the recent gamification projects you’ve been working on in the healthcare arena.

There are a few of them that we are excited about.  At Badgeville, we do a lot of work in both health and general fitness.  In the fitness arena, we have projects like Everyday Health and JillianMichaels.com.  With these projects, we create gamified experiences that Influence behaviors toward the goal of physical fitness.  The success of those projects has been absolutely phenomenal.  We are getting people engaged with their fitness experience through logging workouts and logging diets.  We then reward users through reputation, access to new content, and discounts on services.

In the more specific healthcare front, we’ve done a couple of exciting projects.  One example is AviviaHealth.com, which is a software division of Kaiser Permanente.  The application is used by the employees of Kaiser sponsoring companies.  Basically, if you are an employee of one of these companies, you have access to this application.  Employees use the system to engage with health goals such as smoking cessation, weight management, improved posture, etc.  These activities are tracked in the Avivia application, and employees engage in communities that drive collaboration.  This has been a successful example of demonstrating how communities can help each member achieve their health goals through support. 

What are the first steps a healthcare organization should make when considering a gaming strategy?

An organization should start with their business goals.  Sometimes organizations want to dive straight into focusing on behaviors and less on the actual results.  This can become difficult when they need to have that practical conversation with the CFO to justify budget.  The guidance I give to new customers is to establish goals and understand the metrics that show we are on the right track with those goals; that’s the only way you will actually know that your gamification project is a true success.   Once these goals and metrics have been accessed, we then help clients identify the correct behaviors that need to be targeted and how to engage consumers around those behaviors.  For example, in the case of AviviaHealth.com, healthy employees are an asset for a company.  We came up with a gamified experience that helped those employees to become more healthful as a result.

How does gamification change behavior? How can healthcare organizations use gamification to teach healthy behavior?

I recently answered a similar question on Quora.  While many see gamification as a relatively new phenomenon, there is actually a long history that helps explain how these activities modify behavior.  In the late 1700s retailers came up with a concept called “premiums”.  Using this concept, consumers visited stores on a certain day and they were given a premium item such as a colored lithograph.  These premium items were essentially collectible items that the customer could then showcase to their friends and family to showcase that they had demonstrated a certain behavior. 

The study of martial arts is another great example.  Once a karate student succeeds in learning certain behaviors they are recognized for those behaviors with different color belts.  In an elementary school, students work very hard to earn gold stars from their teacher.  Essentially, this comes down to some essential ingredients in human behavior.  If you do something, then you are recognized for that positive behavior.  It’s human nature to want to be rewarded.  Gamification and human nature are essentially one in the same.

What are the most common mistakes that newcomers make?

As I mentioned earlier, newcomers often fail to be specific about their business objectives.  They simply say, “I want more engagement.” This is akin to a patient going to the doctor, saying there are sick, but not stating any symptoms.  People will inevitably say “I want more engagement”. 

Another common mistake is creating a social rewards program that is either too easy to get through, which provides easy entry into the community, or too difficult to get through, which makes the environment too difficult to thrive within.  Also, if you build a poor experience, then the impact of rewards can have a serious negative ramification on your bottom line.  This is why rewarding people through social rewards can be very cost effective. 

Lastly, one must consider their audience when developing a gaming strategy.  For example, Jillian Michael’s audience is very competitive.  Active.com, on the other hand, has a more collaborative community.  You need to consider your core audience and how they want to interact with one another. 

What are the leaders in healthcare gaming up to these days?

Leaders in this space are using the data that is available to them and identifying behavior profiles that help them succeed with their gaming strategy.  It is easy for companies to limit their strategy to social networks, which are essentially a collection of information about users and their friends, and user profile information, which adds additional data around interests.  However, there is a wider world of behavior that is lost if a gaming strategy is limited to these two pools of information. 

By integrating behavior into the equation, healthcare organizations can track information about users based on what they are doing on the site. This information is stored and understood in the context of what other users are doing at any given time, and in relation to the specific objects on the site. You can easily configure a Behavior Graph to track the behaviors that matter most to your organization no matter how unique those behaviors are. 

Have any additional questions for Scott about gamification in healthcare?  Enter them below.

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