Thursday, August 4, 2011

Games, a solution for health?

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Volpp and colleagues (article linked through the title of this post) comment on the use of immediate incentives to improve employee health through redesigned health benefits plan.  This space has fascinated as it combines two of my areas of interest: health, specifically the delivery of superior health care, and games, specifically PC games.  How did I draw this conclusion?

In the article, the authors comment that adding immediate upside incentives will cause behavior change toward the incentive.  This is what I have tried to explain to the non-gamers around me... you keep pushing the button, ultimately because there is a reward for what you do.  In my preferred case, completion of some task which is fun in its own right, leads to the continuation of a narrative which better be interesting!  Games that lack either a fun mechanic or a decent story tend not to make it into that "classic" realm.

Similarly, benefit design has historically been designed with no incentives (no game mechanic) or worse, perverse incentives (a truly evil game).  The narrative reward--better health, has theoretically always been there, but not quite as explicit as it could be.  One interesting company, Redbrick Health has been doing just what is described in the article, adding a game layer to the world, a brilliant line I have borrowed from Seth Priestbach.

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