The Health Care Game

I am a big fan of games.  They are an important part of how we learn, whether it be coordination in hopscotch or socialization in tag, they are important in our education.  With computers, our relationship to games is changing.  To take advantage of this, I told my children when they were young, that they could play any computer game that they could write.  It provided additional educational experiences.

Now, ‘gamefication’ is a hot topic as people explore how to use games to bring about certain behavioral outcomes.  With this as background, you should not be surprised that my ears perked up when Market Place had an interview with Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future.  She was talking about her new book, her new book, Reality is Broken, where she calls for more gaming.  I rushed home and checked out her TED Talk and sent off an email to some friends.  What would it be like if we approached healthcare as a game?

Dr. McGonigal said that in real life, if someone failed 70% of the time, they would quit their job and go home.  One person responded that the most successful baseball players fail 70% if they have a batting average of .300.  Yet that might illustrate the point.  Baseball is, after all, a game.  It is part of the core of the American experience, but it is a game where you can be successful while still failing 70% of the time.

How would this relate to health care?  We are working hard to make sure that our receptionists give top quality customer service.  Any receptionist that failed 70% of the time would not last long.  At the same time, it is not uncommon to read congressional approval ratings of less than 30%.  In health care, one would think that a failure rate of 70% would mean the end of a medical provider’s career.  Yet if some doctor came along and failed at curing 70% of the cases of HIV that he was presented with, he would be a hero for curing 30% of HIV patients.  Unfortunately, easier to manage medical conditions sometimes have failure rates as high as 70%, such as controlling hypertension or diabetes in certain population.

So, can we take Dr. McGonigal’s ideas and apply them to a Health Care Game?  Perhaps.  In her TED talk, she speaks about four different things that gaming makes us experts in.

The first is urgent optimism.  It seems to me that this urgent optimism is a trait we would want all health care workers to have.  From a receptionist viewpoint, it would be great to have each receptionist urgently optimistic about being able to provide the sort of customer service that will get clients to say, wow, that is a great organization.  From a medical billing perspective, it would be great to have employees urgently optimistic about resolving all billing issues, whether it be with patients, insurance companies or Medicaid or Medicare.  Dr McGonigal comments that “gamers always believe an epic win is possible”.  I would love it if every health care professional always believed an epic win was possible, whether it be in answering the phone, resolving billing issues, setting up a new computer system, or doing a physical.

The second expertise is being a virtuoso at weaving a tight social fabric.  As a social media manager, this expertise is really important to me.  I want to get health care professionals to work better with one another, to share ideas, to be excited about where they work and who they work with.  Building this tight social fabric is based on trust.  How can we use expertise gained from games to build trust between patients and their providers?  How can we get patients and providers to have shared goals?  Is gaming a way to move towards patient centered healthcare?

The third form of expertise that Dr. McGonigal mentions is blissful productivity.  She talks about the average World of Warcraft gamer playing 22 hours a week, the equivalent of a half time job. Gamers know that they are happier working hard in a game then they are hanging out relaxing.  If health care professionals had the same attitude about their jobs, it would put a whole new dynamic on the work/life balance.

The final form of expertise that Dr. McGonigal mentions is epic meaning.  “Gamers love to be patched to awe inspiring missions, to human, planetary scale stories”.  To me, providing world class health care to underserved communities has epic meaning.  Yes, there are times that I get verklempt when I talk with program managers about their programs.  Epic Meaning.  How do we take this gamers love of epic meaning, and encourage more people in health care to view their work as awe inspiring missions?  How do we get people to think about health care beyond the doctor patient experience and onto ideas of building health communities?

Some final points.  Dr. McGonigal talks about making the future, instead of simply seeing it.  As we think about innovations in health care, we are talking about making a better future, not simply trying to see what someone else will make.  One of IFTF’s projects was Superstruct, a game where people were invited to collaborate to create among other things, the future of the social safety net.  How do we invite people to collaborate to create better community health centers and build healthy communities?

About Aldon Hynes

Social Media Manager
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