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Healthcare Giants Talk Games For Health Initiatives

Healthcare Giants Talk Games For Health Initiatives Continuing Gamasutra’s coverage of the 2008 Games For Health conference, we feature a panel included several different major healthcare organizations, including Kaiser Permanente and Humana.

Each discussed their involvement creating games for health, with some of the educational titles cited including The Amazing Food Detective and Re-Mission.

The Amazing Food Detective

Dr. Trina Histon opened by introducing the audience to her employer Kaiser Permanente: America’s largest nonprofit integrated health care system with 13,000 physicians and 156,000 employees.

Histon explained that they were “looking for a 21st century equivalent for 1940’s cartoon signs encouraging workers to ‘EAT RIGHT!'” as part of their weight management initiative. So they looked at game development, producing The Amazing Food Detective, a game aimed at children aged 9-10.

“Developing games is a bit of a departure for us,” she admitted, “but the obesity epidemic can’t be solved by medical community alone. Health plans offer prevention and surgery, but they were looking for a broader reach: Trying to reach community through schools and children. Physicians weren’t on board right away – we had to work with them to convince them sitting in front of computer/TV is worthwhile. The game tells you to go be active after a timer runs out.”

Similarly, scholastic partnership was important: the game is available over 5000 schools, and has won several awards (IMA Award, Parenting Award, KIDS FIRST! Award) making it easier for Kaiser Permanente to use video games in future.

In the game, players “solve” the case of why certain kids aren’t healthy, and Histon pointed out several important points about the project:

– The game was based in evidence — pediatric research – and not “just gimmicky.”
– The title had a broad reach, available in both English and Spanish, and further, the game was culturally sensitive with the in-game children from different ethnicities.
– The game helps improve health literacy: “Don’t make it tough to understand,” Histon warned.

The hope, Histon felt, was that “In 20 years, we can look back and say this helped get rid of the obesity epidemic.”

Humana Games

Next, Paul Puopolo, head of Consumer Innovation at Humana, explained Humana’s involvement with Games For Health. They chose to look at health “across the board,”

Puopolo explained, working on preventive health, disease management, social well-being, beginning with pilot program with exergames in 2007-08: Generation FIT in middle schools, dance mats in assisted living facilities to help muscle/bone development and other solutions for the workplace.

As a specific example, Puopolo described an initiative that Humana had run in middle schools, where “pedometers meet Webkinz” in a competition. They gave pedometers to 20 students in 6 schools and performed a competition on how many steps they could take.

More steps equaled more points, and more points equaled an ability to modify virtual buses and drivers, which went around the world (virtually) teaching the participants about geography on the way. “in 4 and a half weeks, 120 kids walked 6364 miles,” Puopolo revealed.

Furthermore, Pupolo revealed the Humanagames.com initiative, a new portal set up to raise awareness of health issues and present Humana-associated research.


Finally, Michael Rosenfield from CIGNA took the stage to discuss the creation of Re-Mission, a much-discussed 20 level game in which players shoot cancer cells and “manage life threatening side effects”, helping to explain and .

“My colleagues gave me a blank face 18 months ago when I talked about games,” Rosenfield said. “We’re always looking for neat ways to engage our ‘constituents’: employers, employees, etc, but games weren’t on our checklist.”

“Then we ran into [game creator] HopeLab,” he said. “They helped us figure out how to engage users, be fun and, what’s more, in a way scientifically proven to make a difference. The science is key in convincing people to sign on.”

15,000 copies of Re-Mission were distributed to anyone (not just CIGNA members), and they found the game inspired children with cancer, giving them a sense of control.

“People tell us the game is really hard, really challenging,” said Rosenfield. “I tell them, ‘so is cancer. Families are also affected and can learn from the game. The whole system is involved, and we never expected that.”

POSTED: 04.46AM PST, 06/03/08 – Kyle Orland, Mathew Kumar

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