It seems almost surreal when a connection between health plans and social gaming is proposed. However, there is a definite and growing interest among payers in the customer engagement capabilities of social gaming. There is emerging proof that social gaming can be used as a cost effective tool for better care management and for keeping patients away from emergency rooms.

First Steps—Tracing Social Gaming’s Entry into Healthcare IT
A few years ago, the use of social gaming in healthcare technology was considered a fad. Things changed when Aetna began testing social gaming’s utility in 2011—at a time when healthcare reforms were beginning and the present day emphasis on improving overall quality of care had yet to emerge. However, Aetna proceeded with this initiative. Using behavioral science principles, the gaming application was able to inspire some people to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. Aetna continued its journey with an interactive brain testing program that helped its players combat stress.

The reason why a leading healthcare benefits company took this initiative is rather simplistic. Visually stimulating technologies like social gaming can inspire people to adopt healthier living habits. The resulting gains are imminent with patients becoming sick less often and the health plan gaining due to reduced claims. With people becoming more mobile and having greater access to web-enabled devices, social gaming presents the opportunity to constantly connect with consumers and direct them towards a better, healthier way of living.

Diving Deeper into Benefits of Social Gaming
Today, payers need to step out of their comfort zones and offer better employee health management tools. Through gaming apps, payers can spread awareness about lifestyle choices, which help to reduce the rate of sick days at the office. This provides a significant advantage to the employer and helps payers achieve better client satisfaction levels. There is another aspect to the utility of using gaming apps, i.e. when they are combined with emerging healthcare IT tools like data analytics.

Using analytics, data collected from apps can be used for better understanding a consumer’s healthcare requirements. Using social gaming data, analysts can decipher which individuals have a greater propensity to browse through health information and the type of health issues that interest them. This information allows app/mobile developers to hyper-segment consumers and engage them via targeted reward programs and free subscription offers.

Through social gaming apps, invitations can be sent for health improvement webinars where the appeal of collective participation can stimulate greater participation. Employers are likely to appreciate this since it directly contributes toward their employee wellness program objectives. Employers can enhance the appeal of social engagement by providing financial incentives for participation or for completing a particular exercise regimen. In addition, social apps can be turned into effective monitoring and morale-boosting tools when combined with customized messages and email reminders. For instance, lower blood readings achieved with a daily exercise regimen can be automatically sent to a participant when the app detects non-attendance from a scheduled exercise day.

Some apps serve as daily health management tools. For instance, calorie calculator apps can help participants manage their dietary intake by providing instant information about their food choices. Apps can even offer interactive platforms where employees from the same organization can post congratulatory notes via their social media handles or give high fives via the app itself. Simultaneously, the app must offer the freedom to maintain confidentiality about progress in a particular wellness program.

Undeniable Advantage to Payers Albeit Some Manageable Challenges
Apart from contributing toward the better health of patients, apps also help to promote the payer’s brand. By interlinking social media tools like Facebook and Twitter within social gaming apps, payers can earn recommendations that can add to their subscription volumes. If an app manages to go viral, its development cost is instantly recovered as it can snowball into a very convincing marketing medium. The combination of gamification and social media can certainly help as long the appeal, recall and utility factor is maintained. This seems like a win-win situation for payers but they need to understand the challenges too. Firstly, developing a gaming app that can engage and retain participation isn’t easy. Secondly, breaking lifelong habits can be very challenging. Significant participation levels and impressive results from the app’s usage can take more time than expected. Therefore, understanding the health challenges of the insured pool, hyper-segmentation and launching social gaming apps that can address targeted healthcare challenges is recommended. Payers who are reassessing their healthcare technology in wake of the recent reforms are advised to seek a healthcare software solution that provides the capability of launching and managing social gaming applications.

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