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Can CFOs use gamification to manage costs?

While gamification is trending in the healthcare sector today for engaging patients, CFOs may wonder how useful video gaming can be for managing costs.

Using games to engage the public is becoming hugely popular in several industries, with a projected spend of $2.6 billion by 2016, according to IT research firm, Gartner. The firm also estimates that by 2015, about half of healthcare organizations will be using gamification of some sort.

A report from ICF International says three trends are driving the adoption of games in healthcare:

  • The push to replace fee-for-service to pay-for-value care
  • The growing movement by patients to take charge of their medical care as consumers
  • Younger adults who have grown up with video games are now seeking health insurance

But whether gamification initiatives will actually work from both a clinical and financial perspective remains an open question.

Executives at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., would likely answer in the affirmative. They recently launched a weight loss program for obese members of their workforce that included online contests, quizzes, games and raffles, which has led to employees collectively losing more than 1,000 pounds in eight months.

That said, much of the buzz about healthcare games is theoretical, with little evidence to suggest it can lower the cost of care or reduce hospital readmissions.

Munzoor Shaikh, a senior manager at the consulting firm West Monroe Partners, points out that excessive 30-day readmission rates are largely due to “process” issues, such as inadequate or inaccurate discharge instructions and too little patient follow up, not patient engagement issues – and health-related games usually address the latter.

On the other hand, he sees potential for gamification as a tool in preventive medicine, especially in corporate cultures that are competitive. In these settings, employees may get psyched by games in which a staffer can best his colleagues by reaching a lower cholesterol level or by shedding more pounds.

While there is tremendous potential for gamification in healthcare, said Joshua Klapow, PhD, a behavioral scientist and associate professor of public health at University of Alabama at Birmingham, healthcare providers must use caution.  

Providers should vet any vendors who claim their gaming systems can reduce the cost of care and improve its quality, he said. Their wares need to be backed by sound scientific support, their design team should include behavioral scientists, and they shouldn’t be claiming that a single software application will change all the complex behaviors that drive patients.

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