Games for Health – Big News from Boston

imageI arrived in Boston last evening just in time to grab a glass of wine at the opening reception at the 2012 Games for Health Conference.  Organizers tell me this is their biggest year ever with more than 425 registered attendees.  This morning I had the pleasure of providing the opening keynote for the conference.  My title was Connecting and “Kinecting” Health and Healthcare. 

WP_000066Overnight the weather in Boston turned downright gloomy.  This morning when I awoke I could hardly see downtown Boston from my room at the Hyatt Harborside where the conference is  being held.  However, the gloom of rain and low hanging clouds isn’t putting any kind of damper on the mood of everyone attending the Games for Health Conference.   I saw nothing but smiling, enthusiastic faces among the people who got up early to hear my keynote address.  Who are these people?  They are researchers, scientists, physicians and other clinicians, venture capitalists, software developers, insurance company executives, educators, patients and other people from all walks of life.  They all share a passion for software, games and gaming and how this technology can be applied to improve the human condition. 

I see no shortage of great ideas coming out of this group.  Besides lots of games that are simply a riot to play, there are innovations to help soldiers heal, help clinicians learn, help patients stay well or get better faster, and help our health systems around the world work more WP_000061efficiently, at greater scale and lower cost.  I was especially pleased to see so many great ideas and innovations utilizing Microsoft technologies such as Kinect for Xbox and Kinect for Windows.

But there are challenges here too.  This was evident in the session I just attended on “Business Models: Beyond Grants”.  Among the six simultaneous sessions running right after today’s lunch, this one was standing room only.  There is no shortage of really creative, innovative games and solutions on display at the conference.  But the focus here is on health and healthcare, and as I reminded the audience in my keynote this morning, nothing comes easy in healthcare.  You can design a really cool game to motivate people to change a behavior or better manage their disease but will anybody buy such a game?  I encouraged attendees to seriously think these matters through.  Consumers aren’t likely to buy a game that will teach them how to manage their disease.  They expect their insurance company, employer, or perhaps the government to supply “that kind of entertainment”.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market.  It just means the market isn’t direct to consumer.  Instead, take a look at who benefits if the game you create changes behavior or improves health.  I don’t think I need to belabor the point, but it is clear that many developers and others attending this conference with perhaps the best of intentions are overlooking one of the most fundamental determinants of success – the business model. 

I remember speaking to a group of executives from a large, not-for-profit Catholic hospital network some time ago.  The organization was headed by a rather astute nun.  One of her favorite sayings was, “No margin, no mission”.  I think the same philosophy must be applied to many of the wonderful games and well-meaning people here at the  conference.  And don’t get me wrong.  The problems these folks are trying to address constitute a multi-billion dollar opportunity.  Those who crack the code will not only reap very large rewards, they will do so knowing they made a difference in people’s lives.  And, what could be better than that?

Bill Crounse, MD                           Senior Director, Worldwide Health                     Microsoft

Comments (3)
  1. Stuart Smith says:

    "no margin, no mission", this short statement encapsulates the approach we need to take in building Games for Health. I see so many great initiatives in the area but in order to scale them effectively we need to think about the business model.  

  2. Marc L. Demers,MD says:

    As a physician attending the conference, I wondered why so few games were directed toward physician behavior. How better to amplify the benefit of a health game than to put it in the hands of a physician who controls so many decisions in real time? Could games rescue such intractrable problems as reducing futile care, adherence to federal mandates, and making cost-effective choices? Are game developers considering physicians as a small but important group in shifting health choices?

  3. hlthblog says:

    Stuart and Marc,

    Thanks for your comments.  Marc, I too see a lot of potential for games aimed at a physician or nursing audience.  Some of this will come in the form of "simulation" games and other immersive clinical or procedural experiences.  I saw some nice work at the Games for Health conference.  I was especially impressed by a company called BreakAway that is building a simulation engine and platform for educators and clinicians to build realistic clinical simulations to augment medical education and clinical rotations.  Certainly the digital natives among us will be keen to adopt these kinds of solutions.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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