Recently, I’ve met with several internet startups, web thought leaders, and venture capitalists.

There’s one word that’s come up in every conversation and it’s not Plastics.  It’s Gamification.

Gamification, described by Wikipedia is applying gaming principles to non-gaming applications and processes,

“in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, by helping to solve problems and not being a distraction, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.”

Whenever technologists create a cool new application, they often focus on the innovation necessary to solve a hard engineering problem rather than the user experience or how to ensure the ongoing use of the software.

Many internet companies have tried and failed (such as Google Health) to create highly usable healthcare sites, but failed to engage customers over the long term.

Although the biology behind gamification is controversial, the claim is that the human brain inherently enjoys problem solving and the dopamine-mediated emotional rewards that come with it.   Sticky platforms like Facebook implement many gamification features to keep users coming back.   Group competitions, customer loyalty programs, and goal achievement are all examples of gamification strategies.

We’re in the midst of a redesign of the BIDMC Personal Health Record, Patientsite.  Not only do we want to make it easier to use and more visually appealing, we want to ensure it adds value and becomes a destination that patients want to revisit.   We’ll certainly keep Gamification principles in mind.

So next time you’re faced with a software redesign, think about its use more than its engineering.  Replace Plastics with Gamification in your lexicon.   There’s a great future in it.

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chief Information Officer at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), Co-Chair of the HIT Standards Committee, a full Professor at Harvard Medical School, and a practicing Emergency Physician. He’s also the author of the popular Life as a Healthcare CIO blog.

5 replies »

  1. Being an avid fan of whole body health, I definitely appreciate the benefit of working the mind in a problem solving manner and using gamification on website seems like an ideal way to help do that. I can also appreciate the difficulty Google health had as I recently build my Pilates site and found some of the same challenges in the process.

    Thanks for the post,

  2. I found this an interesting and actually a timely post for several reasons.
    1. with rising use of the internet and people seemingly always short on time, easy to use and read design of websites is critical.
    2. individuals who are not as technologically savvy appreciate sites that are easier to work with
    3. In an increasingly never ending search to learn more about conditions, diseases, and other various health issues, redesigning this site should prove to be beneficial
    4. Being that working with our minds has been proven to be beneficial to maintaining cognitive function as we age, gamification on web sites looks like it can provide a hidden advantage to those who use those sites and apps.

    This looks like something all of us in the health field should consider.

    Thanks for the article!

  3. If you’re looking for more information about health gamification, we’ve got loads of videos and articles on the subject. We will also answer any questions you may have about how social games and gamified health apps can improve patient engagement and health outcomes. Just ask us!

    For more info, visit us at ayogo.com