Social Gaming Aims to Make Health Care Fun

Forget personal trainers, diet apps and support groups. When it comes to motivating healthy behaviors that promote wellness, there’s a new game in town, literally. Social gaming is the latest innovation in wellness intervention. Businesses, health care providers and health insurance companies see it as a way to reduce the rising costs of health care by encouraging and rewarding good behavior. The premise is that it’s cheaper to spend money to keep people healthy than to spend money on health care services to make them well.

Games for Health: What is It?

Sticks and carrots definitely work when you want someone to do something. So, starting in 2014, provisions of ObamaCare will allow employers and insurance companies to offer wellness program rewards or penalties up to 30% of the cost of coverage. It also includes a $200 billion, 5-year program to provide grants to small employers (fewer than 100 employees) that put comprehensive wellness programs into place.

Tech startups, established developers, businesses and health insurance providers are already on the bandwagon or joining it. Many are working together to combine the popularity of social networking, smart phones and game mechanics to create game-based ways to encourage wellness.

Games for Health: How to Play?

Mobile, Social and Fun Games for Health, published in November, 2011 by Mobi Health News Research, includes the following examples:

  • Humana offers, a website dedicated to health and wellness-related games such as Colorfall and Goldwalker.
  • Kaiser’s Innovation Consultancy offers games such as Dr. Hero and The Amazing Food Detective and has other consumer-focused pilots in the works. They’re also exploring clinical gaming that gives doctors the a safe environment where they’re free to experiment and fail.
  • The Center for Body Computing is developing The Magic Carpet game to aid with pulmonary
    rehabilitation by getting users to blow into their mobile phones and make an interactive carpet move.
  • Vivecoach offers several games including step count competitions, weight loss challenges, exercise challenges and cold turkey challenges designed to appeal to groups within a workplace.
  • RedBrick works with large, self-insured employers and employees to create engagement platforms that blend games, social networking and financial rewards that include lowering an employee’s contribution to health insurance premiums. reports that Digital health startup Audax Health recently launched an online health platform called Careverge, developed by a team of people from Apple, Zynga, WebMD and Ning, that aims to be a “one-stop health-related destination.” Participants can play games to collect badges and other rewards that can be redeemed for real prizes like work-out gear and medical devices.

A December 29, 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal on social gaming included HealthTap, Inc., which lets doctors build an online profile and gain exposure by answering health-related questions from consumers. The better the doctor does, the more prominently he or she is featured on the website. The site has attracted 6,000 doctors so far. The same article mentioned Keas Inc, whose clients include pharma giants Fizer and Novartis. Keas offers a gaming platform that lets groups of employees compete to outdo each other in healthy activities.

In 2006, HopeLab, a nonprofit social enterprise, launched the video game Re-Mission that challenges young cancer patients to destroy cancer cells. It has been successful in helping kids adhere to their treatment regimens. (As reported on’s blog.) wrote last May that Aetna is working in partnership with social gaming company Mindbloom, the developer of Life Game, to offer a version of that game that includes an interactive website to promote healthy activities. The game rewards participants who reach their health and well-being goals with personalized premium content.

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