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A winning recipe: mHealth highly effective when it’s a game

By Jennifer Bresnick

It’s no secret that people like a bit of friendly competition.  Turning a boring or onerous task into a race or a contest can pique interest and spike participation.  From office competitions designed to help employees lose weight to a slew of mobile apps designed to encourage healthy choices through reward-driven mini-games and checklists, patients who turn to their smartphones are increasingly demanding entertainment along with their healthy advice.  A recent survey examining the “gamification” of mHealth shows that not only are app developers flocking to the idea, but it’s effective enough to warrant the attention.

Employers are taking the lead when it comes to preventative health, in part because a healthy worker is a more productive worker, but also because it helps keep insurance costs down.  A smartphone app to help employees stop smoking or take the stairs more often is a relatively low-cost way of introducing healthy lifestyle choices to an office-bound population, and 73% of organizations that responded to the WorldatWork “Emerging Technology in Health Engagement” survey reported already having such a strategy in place.

Sixty-two percent of the 408 participant organizations have incorporated a gamification approach to their wellness programs, and 12% of those use online or mobile games, with a further 52% considering adopting a similar feature within the next three years.  Mobile tools, with or without game elements, are used in 36% of businesses, with the same number considering adding mHealth apps to their portfolio in the next year.

Employers are working with their insurance plans and wellness program providers to develop fun and engaging mobile apps for their employees, adding lotteries, point-collection challenges, quizzes, leaderboards, and avatars to their apps in order to increase emotional investment in tracking exercise time or healthy eating.  Adding social networking elements can also boost engagement, and 50% of employers have harnessed the power of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other popular services to promote health engagement and help participants stay accountable for their choices.

While effectiveness figures are not widely available – only 10% of companies even bother tracking the return on investment of their wellness offerings – 61% of respondents indicated that gamification has improved specific lifestyle behaviors among their employees, with similar numbers reporting that their workforce health has improved along with their company image and reputation.

“This study demonstrates that employers increasingly perceive new and emerging technology as offering opportunities to better reach and support their employees in improving their well-being,” the report concludes.  “Mobile technology appears in the lead as a means to capitalize on highly prevalent, employee-preferred channels and tools.  Employers seem committed to move forward in pursuing new ways to successfully promote health engagement and achieve desired behavior change and results. Interest in these emerging technology avenues is likely to continue growing rapidly as employers seek to capitalize and leverage innovative technology solutions.”




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