How insurers use gamification for customer wellness

In a process known as gamification, some industries, including the aviation industry and the military, have been applying gaming techniques to things that are not game-related for quite some time. Players earn points or other incentives, and in some cases will compete with others.

Over the last several years, the healthcare industry has begun to follow suit with the development of health-related apps designed to monitor and improve health and engage consumers.

Health and wellness apps can be used to monitor things like physical activity, nutrition and disease management. There are dozens of apps on the market, such as:

  • Fitbit: Monitors activity, including things like number of steps taken, distance walked, calories burned, hourly activity and stationary time;
  • MyFitnessPal: Tracks calorie intake vs. calories burned; and
  • Zombies Run: Gives runners a mission to complete while being chased by zombies.

According to Karlyn Carnahan, research director with Celent’s Insurance group and author of the report Game Revolution: Gamification in the Insurance Industry, insurance carriers are looking to gamification as a new way to address growth and efficiency challenges. “Gamification techniques are just starting to be used in the insurance industry, but are showing definite results when executed well,” Carnahan said in the report. “Adding elements of fun, competition, and rewards can generate real business results.”

Drivers of insurance industry gamification

An ICF International white paper titled Gaming to Engage the Healthcare Consumer, points to three major market drivers behind the use of gamification by payers:

  • The shift to outcomes-based medicine: Under the ACA’s value-based reimbursement model, payers receive incentives for encouraging behaviors that will improve customer health. And gaming techniques are effective methods of getting people to adopt healthier lifestyles by helping them do things like stop smoking or lose weight.
  • The trend toward consumer-based business models: Interactive tools, such as gaming, can make payer products more attractive to consumers and motivate customers to adopt healthy habits.
  • The growth of Generation Y: Millennials grew up on gaming and are therefore accustomed to using apps and other game-based tools. The Generation Y population also tends to be young and healthy, which makes them an attractive customer base for insurers.

How insurers are using gamification

Carnahan says that payers are using gamification for three main purposes:

  • To promote behavioral changes that will improve customer health;
  • For marketing, sales and customer engagement; and
  • To increase productivity internally.

Here are some examples:

  • Cigna offers Coach by Cigna, which is a free app that develops personalized wellness plans that focus on exercise, food, sleep, stress and weight.
  • UnitedHealthcare has a free mobile app called Health4Me that enables users to locate a nearby in-network physician, hospital or other medical facility, and gives them access to health and wellness tools.
  • According to Healthcare IT News, United is also working with Qualcomm on a new mobile health program called UnitedHealthcare Motion. The program will provide wearable devices to plan participants to help them improve their health by walking. The devices will track steps and provide a summary of daily activities. Members will receive financial incentives for meeting certain goals.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota provides customers with links to external wellness apps for fitness and nutrition, smoking cessation, disease management, women’s health and more.

Strategies for success

The ICF white paper says that successful gamification by insurers “requires a team of multidisciplinary, multifaceted experts, including advisors in healthcare, instructional design, research, assessment and game design.”

You’ll also need to develop strategies to keep members engaged. Katherine Milkman, professor of operations and information management at Wharton University of Pennsylvania, said in a Wharton article that apps need to be constantly evolving in order to keep people engaged. “You can’t build one Super Mario game…and expect it to do the trick forever,” she said.

Filed Under: Health IT Payer