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  • January 2014
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Wellness: Is it All in the Game?

In Brief
Gamification is on the increase as companies look to make wellness programmes more attractive to their users.  

Gamification – adding game and social elements – can definitely enhance a wellness platform’s value and attraction. Appealing to the competitive side of human nature, health insurers have sought to increase participant interest wellness programmes by gamifying their propositions – that is, featuring a broad variety of game elements into their offerings.

And gamification of wellness is definitely a trend in health care. The Games for Health Journal, now in its second year in the US, explores a myriad of issues related to the impact applied game theory can have.

Gamified wellness platforms have been around in the US for at least five years, and range in sophistication. The simplest encourage participants to undergo biometric screenings (weight, BMI, cholesterol levels and blood pressure), provide plan sponsors with those metrics, and generally enable participants to earn a nominal discount on their health insurance premiums.

UnitedHealth Group’s focus on innovation in this space has so far yielded three gamified wellness programmes: OptumizeMe, which lets participants in its health plans engage in fitness-related contests with their friends; Baby Blocks, which seeks to encourage women on Medicaid to attend all prenatal checks; and Reward Me, an affinity programme on the Health4Me mobile app, which provides special offers and discounts to participating members who track health activities.

Reward Me, currently being piloted to fully insured groups in Arizona, lets members receive “welcome rewards”, typically discounts averaging 20% to 30%, from local companies, restaurants, gyms and national retailers.

Humana’s gamified multi-level wellness and rewards programme, HumanaVitality, is a partnership with Discovery Health, the South African health insurer that developed the Vitality wellness proposition. It encourages Humana health plan participants that opt for the Vitality proposition to undergo a short health assessment, which generates a Vitality Age – one’s “physical” age, based on lifestyle and habits.

The assessment’s metrics are used to develop a personalised wellness programme. The key to it is the awards aspect: the assessments earns the first Vitality Points, more Points can be earned for recommended wellness activities, and as points add up, a user’s Vitality status increases.

At the Bronze level, members of participating plans can enroll for Vitality HealthyFood, which provides a shopping card enabling users to buy qualifying healthy foods at Walmart Neighborhood Markets and Walmart retail stores. Users can also receive Vitality Bucks, which can be spent in the HumanaVitality mall for movie tickets, hotel stays, digital cameras and more.

The LEAP4LIFE wellness platform transforms tracked wellness activity data into cold, hard cash. Participants who register with LEAP4LIFE can access its Events Center page, where they can select to participate in an event sponsored by LEAP4LIFE corporate partner for points.Each point is equivalent to one American penny. 

The events are in three life tracks: Conditioning, Performance Enhancement, and what it calls Compete and Challenge, which is the social portion of the platform, where registered users can compete with other participants around the globe.

In 2014, Lee Embley, LEAP4LIFE’s chief executive officer, is planning an app that can capture a range of every registered user’s wellness habits, from groceries bought to gym attendance, getting a flu injection, and more.

Over time, he says, these data points will create a user profile of health habits, activities and behaviours, which could add value via the potential creation of a Life Score. Similar to a credit rating a Life Score, done right, can demonstrate personal wellness responsibility much as a credit rating can represent financial responsibility.

These gamified wellness platforms are exciting, but they are risks. Already, privacy issues have erupted around data collected by certain QS (quantified self) websites, many of which have had to reduce their data collection activities.

In addition, many of these games are geared to younger cohorts. One company seeking to increase the number of employees that worked out, found that its high-performing workers tended to prioritise their work over gym time.

Two more aspects: just providing gaming goodies – points, rewards, badges, gift cards, points and prizes – might not be the best route to wellness programme engagement. 

Additionally, human resources departments might have to change their thinking, as the traditional mindset of preventing employees from playing games and using social media at work might have to morph into a mindset of using gaming to enable changes in wellness behaviours.

Gamification in wellness is still relatively new, and providers are still looking for the best ways to optimise platforms. Stay tuned…

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Kate Coburn
Kate Coburn
Business Development Manager, RGA UK

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