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Serious Games: Health Plans and Health Games

By Clive Riddle, March 25, 2009

Should you be playing games with your health? (Alright, maybe the correct word is “for” and not “with”, but I wanted your attention.) Nevertheless, a growing body of policy, research, health care, and health insurance organizations think you should.

The Serious Games Initiative founded at the Washington DC based Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, applies cutting edge games and game technologies to a range of public and private policy, leadership, and management issues.” The Initiative earlier this decade launched Games for Health to coalesce a community of researchers, health care professionals and game developers involved with games designed for health care applications. The organization’s Games for Health Fifth Annual Conference will be held June 11-12, 2009 in Boston.

Humana became a believer in the movement. In September 2007 , Grant Harrison, vice-president of Humana’s Integrated Consumer Experience said “giving healthcare consumers the ability to become more closely connected with the management of their health through video games is a unique way in which to accomplish Humana’s goal of helping members become both mentally and physically health.” The company stated that Humana’s Innovation Center would research and develop “the best ways to connect with consumers using game technology. In collaboration with Serious Games pioneer Digitalmill Inc., Humana is evaluating all aspects of the games for health space.”

In May 2008 they launched HG4H: Humana Games for Health, a web site for their initiative, and began forging partnerships with schools and other organizations to offer various exercise and games for health programs. HG4H has since partnered with various game developers to offer “interactive video games that provide fun physical and mental workouts and motivate healthy lifestyle choices.” HG4H has categorized their offerings into six categories: exergames, persuasive games, casual games, educational games, virtual world games and pervasive games.

Just last month, when announcing new online games added to the HG4H program, Paul Puopolo, Humana’s director of consumer innovation stated “we know that a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be boring and these games are a perfect way for consumers to connect health with a technology they already enjoy. With childhood obesity on the rise, games like Lunch Crunch and Bubble Trouble give kids the lessons in health they need but present the message in an entertaining way – through a little friendly competition online. We also know that baby boomers are looking for ways to keep their minds young, so games like Split Words and Entangled Objects help with cognitive functions and attention skills – exercises that so many adults need.”

Lunch Crunch? Bubble Trouble? Split Words? Entangled Objects? These don’t sound like the offerings typically announced in press releases by health plan. Trying to get to the bottom of just what’s going on here, I spoke to Laura Fay, CEO of HAPPYneuron, Inc., a developer partner with Humana. HAPPYneuron is a majority owned subsidiary of Scientific Brain Training (NYSE Euronext: MLSBT) and offers a broad range of personalized brain training workouts in multi-media formats. Scientific Brain Training was founded in 2000, and the company has had a North American presence since 2006.

For Humana, the HAPPYneuron games offered online were “designed to stimulate your attention, language, memory, planning and abstract-thinking skills” with the core targeted audience including seniors for the purpose of deferring the onset of age related brain decline. Laura told me that their Humana applications have now been up two months with public access at with five HAPPYneuron click and play games offered.

Laura shared that HAPPYneuron offers direct to consumer individual products from their web site, in addition to partnerships with organizations such as Humana. Their current and prospective partners include health plans, publications, employers, pharmaceutical companies, research organizations, educational institutions, and senior centers.

HAPPYneuron product offering include individual online memberships with “access to more than 3,000 hours of unique game play with its 34 innovative online games... designed and developed by a team of neurologists and cognitive psychologists to work the brain’s five major cognitive functions: memory, attention, language, visual/spatial and executive” and “HAPPYneuron Junior, a series of 24 online games has been developed by a group of neurologists and specifically designed for children 8 through 12 years old.” The company also offers CD/DVDs and books.

Their core offerings involve memory games providing “cognitive training fun with very diverse exercises, each one with numerous options, difficulty levels and data sets.” Laura stated an end result is to deliver a level of peer comparison, with exercise data results that provide feedback on a given exercise compared to the applicable peer group

I asked Laura what ROI can their cognitive training games offer Humana or other health care partners? She answered that “a one-point increase in cognitive activity corresponded with a 33% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s” and share the following cost implications (citing the Alzheimer’s Association as her source):

  • 10 million Boomers will get Alzheimer’s Disease
  • The average lifetime cost of care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is $174,000
  • The annual of caring for someone with Alzheimer's is $18,400 for someone with mild symptoms, $30,100 for moderate symptoms and $36,132 for severe symptoms.
  • Medicare costs for beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease were $91 billion in 2005. Medicare costs are expected to increase by 75% to $160 billion in 2010 and to $180B by 2015

For developers such as HAPPYneuron, there’s more than fun and games at stake here in the emerging games for health sector. According to the Health eGames Market Report 2008 “iConecto estimates the Health eGaming market at approximately $7 billion during the next 12 months including the markets for brain fitness ($267M), exergaming ($6.4B+) and other Health eGames on the consumer and professional side ($250M+).”

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  • Response
    Response: Insurance
    Thanks for all the amazing information.

Reader Comments (1)

health games, what is it?

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