Monday, May 14, 2012


Recently, I've met with several internet startups, web thought leaders, and venture capitalists.

There's one word that's come up in every conversation and it's not Plastics .  It's Gamification 

Gamification, described by Wikipedia is applying gaming principles to non-gaming applications and processes,

"in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, by helping to solve problems and not being a distraction, and by taking advantage of humans' psychological predisposition to engage in gaming."

Whenever technologists create a cool new application, they often focus on the innovation necessary to solve a hard engineering problem rather than the user experience or how to ensure the ongoing use of the software.

Many internet companies have tried and failed (such as Google Health) to create highly usable healthcare sites, but failed to engage customers over the long term.

Although the biology behind gamification is controversial, the claim is that the human brain inherently enjoys problem solving and the dopamine-mediated emotional rewards that come with it.   Sticky platforms like Facebook implement many gamification features to keep users coming back.   Group competitions, customer loyalty programs, and goal achievement are all examples of gamification strategies.

We're in the midst of a redesign of the BIDMC Personal Health Record, Patientsite.  Not only do we want to make it easier to use and more visually appealing, we want to ensure it adds value and becomes a destination that patients want to revisit.   We'll certainly keep Gamification principles in mind.

So next time you're faced with a software redesign, think about its use more than its engineering.  Replace Plastics with Gamification in your lexicon.   There's a great future in it.


Unknown said...

Dr. Halamka,

What are some examples of how you'll be using Gamification to make the BIDMC Patientsite stickier and add value for end users?

CJ Dailey said...

I completely agree. Gamify the world; it'll be a better place!

What I've noticed in my short "game" thus far is that the hamster wheel of getting healthy is not so much fun. In fact it very well may be the main reason that knowledge does not change behavior. Add levels, badges, warnings, multi-player health goals, and some incentives like $30/health gear at a sports shop and I'm all in.

Then again it - feels a little Orwellian if you draw a B line to the inevitable misuse and exploitation of these systems. I'll personally accept the risk for a healthier planet myself, but we need to continue to pursue even more patient empowerment into auditing the controls for PHI on such systems.

Donald Green MD said...

To descend into making information gathering a game and only worthwhile if it is made entertaining is no substitute for professional satisfaction. It should be easily usable and let each user promote their own style of data gathering and analysis. Prepackaging it makes a system for everyone that is good for no one.

ckoerner said...

Game Modeling, or creating a game-like experience is something that can be both intellectually rewarding and professionally satisfying. Take a look at Jane MCGonical's research into how humans approach challenges in games vs. challenges in the real world. Why is it that at work we get stressed out when a challenge approaches, yet when we're playing a game our brain kicks on the 'Oh boy! Let's figure this out!" mode? How can more of the latter happen in our professional environments?

Ayogo Games said...

Hey John,

If you’re looking for more information about health gamification, we’ve got loads of videos and articles on the subject on our website. We will also answer any questions you may have about how social games and gamified health apps can improve patient engagement and health outcomes.

Furthermore, we have also done a considerable amount of work gamifying the Personal Health Record platform for a PHR service offered by some of the largest employers in the United States.

Let's talk! Email me at or visit our website for more info about us.


Adel Elmessiry said...

I totally agree and will add that the game aspect by itself may be short lived, but the social component is not!
I think that human are social creatures that inherently competitive.
You could think of it as the aspect of evolution that keeps us into natural selection game, but in virtual way.