Archive for: March 2011

Games for Health Conference Announces Opening Keynote and Initial Content

Mar 31, 2011, 2:36 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

This post originally appeared on 

by BEN SAWYER on MARCH 28, 2011

Today the Games for Health Conference, now in its seventh year, announced its opening keynote will be Dr. Martin Seligman. Widely known as the founding father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Seligman will help Games for Health attendees understand the opportunities that positive psychology presents for games.

Drawing upon his latest findings concerning PERMA (five measurable elements that contribute to well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment) and happiness Dr. Seligman will provide the basis for a conference long discussion and quest for how videogame developers and researchers can create “PERMA Power Ups” forged by a collaboration between the documented interventions of positive psychology and interactive entertainment. This presentation will also help attendees see beyond positive psychology to the possibility of a broader field of positive health.

His opening talk “Positive Psychology>Positive Computing>Positive Videogames” is one of over 60 talks planned for the three day event. Event organizers announced the initial schedule of talks is now online at its site:

“Games for Health as a field is moving past establishing itself as a worthy idea, to being a robust area of mass-market activity. Our seventh conference, with an opening keynote by Dr. Seligman, is an attempt to further realize the opportunity videogames and videogame technologies might have for health and healthcare on a large-scale,” said conference organizer Ben Sawyer.

Each year the Games for Health Conference, which is supported by the Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, brings together hundreds of researchers, health professionals, and game developers to look at a wide gamut of activity involving health and videogames. This year’s event continues with staple tracks of content on exercise, sensorimotor rehab, cognitive and emotional health, and features new talks on nutrition games, as well as excellent open track featured content on autism, HIV prevention, gamification of health, personal health records, sensor games, and global health.

Games for Health also features three excellent pre-conference events focusing on games accessibility, mobile games, and medical modeling and simulation with games.

“The breadth of material covered at games for health is one of its great strengths. As a sponsor of the conference and The Games for Health Project, we’re amazed at the continued expansion of where videogame innovation is showing possible efficacy in improving health and healthcare for all Americans,” said Paul Tarini, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio.

Founded in 2004, the Games for Health Project supports community, knowledge, and business development efforts to use cutting-edge games and game technologies to improve health and health care. The Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the lead conference sponsor and a major supporter of the Games for Health Project. To date, the project has brought together researchers, medical professionals, and game developers to share information about the impact games and game technologies can have on health, health care, and policy.

A major effort of the Games for Health Project is the annual Games for Health Conference. Over three days, more than 400 attendees will participate in over 60 sessions provided by an international array of 80+ speakers, cutting across a wide range of activities in health and health care. Topics include exergaming, physical therapy, disease management, health behavior change, biofeedback, rehab, epidemiology, training, cognitive health, nutrition, and health education. The Games for Health Project is produced by the Serious Games Initiative, a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars effort that applies cutting-edge games and game technologies to a range of public and private policy, leadership, and management issues.

Dr. Martin Seligman is Zellerbach family professor of psychology, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, and founder of Positive Psychology, a new branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions. His research has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier — to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances. Positive psychology interventions can also lastingly decrease depression symptoms. The research underlying these rigorously tested interventions is presented in Dr. Seligman’s new book, FLOURISH, published by Free Press in April 2011.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and healthcare issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and healthcare of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. Projects in the Pioneer Portfolio are future-oriented and look beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and healthcare. For more information, visit our website at

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Discovering the Pioneering Genome: A Few Final Thoughts From TED

Mar 25, 2011, 7:37 AM, Posted by Lori Melichar

My framework and perspective on measuring “pioneer-ness” has been radically altered by what I have seen and heard at TED.  What began as a traditional academic exercise of collecting data to examine a hypothesis and testing fit of predictions has evolved into a task of discovery – a quest to discover the “pioneering” genome.

Jim Hornthal gave a memorable talk in TED university (a series of short talks held in a smaller theater than the official “TED TALKS”) about the importance of pattern recognition, a quality another speaker said that only humans, not computers, possess.   

Pattern recognition can help us discover useful information we didn’t know we were looking for. Jim talked about several ways humans seek assistance when making a decision. 

  • Rely on experts
  • Rely on friends
  • Check with crowds
  • Use algorithms to understand complex data, such as what’s currently being done in genomics

We’ve used the first two to examine the Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio.  We will embrace the third once open proposal is launched .It is the fourth that intrigued me…. a strategy that I encounter daily in my entertainment life, but had not considered in my work.

Similar to the iPod app Pandora, which predicts what kind of music an individual will like based on the fundamental properties of the songs they have indicated they liked in the past, I am intrigued by the challenge of discovering what it is about the Pioneer team’s projects that makes them pioneering, in order to predict projects and ideas that the team should seek to support.

To turn patterns into information, I’ll start by going through the notes I took at TED, the words my colleagues shared, and the characteristics the other meeting attendees supplied: infrastructure, unconventional, unpredictable.

I’ll also go through the two years of data we've collected in our quest to objectively score our portfolio's success at attracting and supporting successful pioneering ideas/projects.  Even our crudest measures, such as when we just ask our examiners, "Is this pioneering?" why?  What is pioneering to you?

Through all of this, I’ll look for clues to the building blocks of the pioneering genome, then see how we can use that information to gain knowledge.

Which way transparency Nirvana?

Mar 24, 2011, 6:52 AM, Posted by Mike Painter

First the good news—many are pushing the envelope on public reporting of health care information these days. For instance, this week the HHS/Health 2.0 Developer Challenge awarded honors to a new mobile app—using Hospital Compare data in new and innovative ways—try it. This application maps and provides some quality information as well as immediate ER waiting times for nearby hospitals. The idea of this app challenge, as you know, is to unleash moribund federal information, such as that sitting in the creaky Hospital Compare—to innovative types who will take it and create new—and, ideally, useful ways to present the information.  That’s an exciting turn that makes altogether too much sense.

Then Wednesday, I had the good fortune to attend a very thoughtful AHRQ sponsored meeting on public reporting of care information for consumers.  The meeting included a good mix of consumers, employers, regional alliance leaders, health professionals, researchers and others.  Bill Roper provided a motivating keynote. The messages ranged from overt optimism about the important role of public reporting in the drive toward sustainable high value care—to the sober assessment that although public reporting has matured (some)—we may also be reaching limits.  As Steve Jencks commented—we’ve made progress—but let’s keep some perspective here—public reporting still needs some quick wins—it “isn’t quite covered in glory, just yet.”

Meredith Rosenthal, in her plenary presentation, observed that public reporting is essentially about to graduate from high school—sitting in the guidance counselor’s office trying to decide whether to go to college or trade school.  Bob Galvin, in the closing session, added—that while public reporting is indeed in the guidance counselor’s office—and it clearly has a bright future—it’s a pretty confused student.

The problem? There seems to be near unanimous sentiment—at least in this group—that public reporting of quality and cost information is critically important to drive sustainable health care quality and value. Still, after 25 years of trying it remains a hard slog. One line of thought is: stay the course!  We just need to keep trudging.  The holy land is right over the next hill—measures need a few more tweaks.  All we need now are those outcome measures that the real people actually want.  We definitely need a lot more engaged consumer activists and patients to help create those useful measures.  Everyone needs help getting to the right presentation of that information—presentation that will tip the scale, make the difference—and then accelerate our long, twilight march toward high value care.

Or maybe not.

What if, instead, we already have a large chunk of the public actively engaging with health care information, such that it is—on HealthGrades, WebMD, Consumer Reports, Aligning Forces for Quality sites, Hospital Compare?  Bob Galvin in his comments estimated, say, 10 to 15 million people already.  What if we’re not actually going to get many more?  What if we’re not going to see an enormous marginal return in new numbers as we struggle to improve publicly reported measurement incrementally?  What if more and more of the public are not going to wake up one day and jump online to sort through ever more complicated information to make decisions?  Certainly, our currently motivated “mavens” need better, more usable information. But these mavens also may be the actual, ultimate consumer audience—when it’s all said and done.

There is another point—perhaps we should accept that sometimes people simply act on price—just price. Price can, in fact, be a very strong information signal—and extremely user-friendly—especially when people are first dollar sensitive.  Certainly, that’s not always the case—many people will avoid the cheapest care at all costs—because, for instance, they may be terrified of getting “cheap bad” care.  But still—no arguing about it—in the right circumstances price can move markets.

In his closing comments on Wednesday, Galvin provocatively suggested some nuance here.  Perhaps we should recognize that those important mavens out there will be mavens—and then work hard to get them the best measures and tools they need to make good recommendations and decisions.  And maybe we should also accept that for some things—some procedures, images, prescriptions—individual people will be, well, deal searching consumers—and will shop avidly, as we want them to do, for the best bargain—in those limited instances.  If that’s the case, let’s help them.  In addition to developing better, publicly reported quality and cost information for mavens, we should accelerate work significantly to identify those price sensitive activities for everybody else and rapidly develop (no easy task) that price information.  But really—and not to be too flippant—why not slap some useable, accurate prices on those items pronto—and let the bargain hunting begin?

Focus on the Pig: The Making It Better Symposium at RISD

Mar 16, 2011, 10:21 AM, Posted by Steve Downs

Aidan Petrie of Ximedica said it bluntly. In acknowledging that it is often tough for designers to break into health care institutions and play a significant role, Petrie, an industrial designer, gives this advice to designers: "remember, it’s not about putting lipstick on a pig – it’s about the pig." Exactly. In that stark phrase Petrie captured much of my thinking as I sat through the day-and-a-half long “symposium on art, design and the future of health care” at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), sponsored by RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio. The intersection of art, design and health should not be about prettying up a lousy system—it should be about designing a better system to begin with.

The symposium was the brainchild of RISD president John Maeda, who wanted to connect the talents of RISD students and faculty with the urgent problems of health and health care. And there were many references to the strange bedfellows nature of the gathering. This awkwardness was most pronounced among the participants who came from the health care and public health side of the aisle. The artists and designers who spoke generally seemed quite comfortable with the notion that health does not exist independent of a broader life but is deeply intertwined, and as such, it is a natural subject for art and design.

So we saw Damon Rich apply a designer’s approach to understanding how to boost public participation in the decision-making processes that affect public spaces; the wonderful artist Mel Chin bring his passion and vision to the tragedy of lead poisoning in inner cities; and Amale Andraos’ brilliant visions of greener, healthier urban landscapes and buildings. But, by and large (there were exceptions), participants from the health sector looked at this question of how art and design could intersect with health with a slight puzzlement before defaulting to… communication. As one put it, we need great designers to help us communicate the complexity of health care in ways that people will understand. With all due respect to health communication, which is a vital field, health in the United States has even more fundamental challenges that demand the talents and skills of the design and artistic communities. Let’s get them to focus on the pig.

Within a couple of generations we have managed to engineer movement out of our work days, cooking out of our homes and play out of our children’s lives. We have designed communities and pioneered lifestyles whose only logical consequence is poor health. We have designed a health care system that has brought us the 7-minute office visit, the dreaded emergency room wait, the explanation of benefits statement, 50 million people without coverage and – oh yeah – a crushing federal deficit. I won’t be naïve and say that a few designers will turn this all around – these are deep-rooted problems – but I do believe strongly that we need the creativity and the perspective that they bring. We need people who look at these problems differently. Who are, as John Maeda put it, naturally curious. Whose views are not so deeply ingrained that they cannot ask “why not?” Who, like the delightfully unexpected Kelly Dobson, ask questions that stop us in our tracks, make us uncomfortable and make us remember that we’re human.

Three things I Know to be True (TED edition)

Mar 9, 2011, 11:12 AM, Posted by Deborah Bae

TED presentor Sarah Kay, an amazing 22 year old spoken word poet (check out her TED talk when it gets posted), asks her students to list what they believe to be true to help them tell their stories.  It’s great advice.  I was stuck all week trying to figure out what to write about, but it was fairly easy to come up with just three things I think are true about TED. 

1)      TED can be very intimidating.  Attendees include world renowned scientists and researchers, successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, celebrated designers and artists, and famous actors and actresses.  And, it seemed like they all knew each other really well. It was easy to feel small, unaccomplished and left out.  But over the course of the week, you meet lots of people and realize that there are many attendees who have similar feelings and that most people don’t know each other.

2)      Meaningful conversations do happen at TED.  Once you get over the intimidation factor and can strike up a meaningful conversation, you find out about some great projects.  I talked to an acclaimed industrial designer, Yves Behar, who designed the Jawbone headset and the $100 laptops for One Laptop per Child.  He’s also designed high-quality, free or low-cost, fun eye glasses for kids in Mexico with hopes to bring these glasses to students in the US. 

3)      Optimism pervades TED.  A major theme at TED is the use of cutting edge technology and its role in solving big problems.  For example, Dr. Anthony Antala gave a presentation on “printing” organs to solve the organ donation shortage.  But there were other speakers and attendees who spoke less about how they’re using technology, and more about their desire to make the world a better place.  I met Shantanu Sinha, who gave up his prestigious consulting job to join his best friend, Salman Khan, on a non-profit venture called Khan Academy.  Khan Academy is attempting to fix our broken education system by “providing a world-class education to anyone anywhere."  They’ve posted thousands of videos on math and science, and they’re just beginning to branch into other subjects.  These free videos are intended to help students learn at their own pace at home- they can watch the videos over and over again until they understand the concepts while getting more targeted interventions at school.  After Sal Khan gave his talk, there was a collective sense of optimism that prevailed for the rest of the conference. This optimism has re-inspired me to think positively, differently and creatively to solve some of our most challenging and pressing issues in health and health care.