Archive for: May 2011

How do we get health games to help millions of people?

May 26, 2011, 5:51 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

By Brian Quinn, assistant vice president, Research and Evaluation,

I attended the Games for Health Conference last week in Boston.  It was a great introduction to the gaming field and all of the work that’s being done in this space to try and improve healthy behaviors and increase healthy outcomes.  In addition to several of our Health Games Research grantees, I saw interesting presentations and demos on Kairos Labs’, HopeLab’s Zamzee and Firsthand Technology’s game to promote better oral health habits among children.

One of the themes running throughout the conference is now that we’ve got all of this experience and evidence about how to use games to improve health, what are the next steps for the field?  That is, how does Games for Health get taken to scale to have an even broader impact?  The field has a lot of demonstrated success, energy and activity behind it, but health gamers face a unique challenge.  Successful health games need to simultaneously meet three requirements: 1) they need to make sure that the games are fun and entertaining; 2) they need to make sure that they have a real and measurable impact on health; and 3) they need to be marketable and revenue-generating.   Tackling all three goals simultaneously creates a unique set of challenges. The good news is that the field seems energized to take it on.

As we think about how to take the next step, the field needs to first consider what factors are necessary and sufficient for success.  Is it more research?  Is it better connections with providers?  Is it better inroads with non-gamers who would benefit from health games, such as seniors?  What can we learn from other fields?  What thoughts do you have?  How do we get health games to help millions of people?

Thoughts from Games for Health 2011: Sensors, Opportunity, Scale

May 23, 2011, 6:19 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Here are a few of my initial ideas from the 2011 Games for Health Conference, put on by Ben Sawyer and Beth Bryant:

1. The sensors are coming, the sensors are coming.  Sensors and the software to collect and analyze the data are on the verge of becoming retail products.  Green Goose is one company hoping to grab this market.  What does it mean for health games?  It means that soon we will be able to turn lots of things into data collection and data input devices.  So think about games that use household objects instead of, say, a wii remote.  You could turn your house into the playing field for a game.

2. Better seeds and more fertile ground.  The quality of health games—the game mechanics, the theory underlying design is getting better.  At the same time, the context in which we can use games to improve health is expanding.  We can now embed games in social networks, so think about linking someone’s facebook friends in with their game efforts to lose weight or manage their diabetes.

3. There’s likely more than one way for a game that has an impact at scale.  When we got into this space at RWJF, we were thinking about games as therapeutic interventions for individuals—one person with one game addressing one condition that a lot of individuals have.  But building off item 2 above, given what Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler are showing with their research on transmission of health behaviors through social networks, you could design a health game that requires social networks—teams—to play.  Still another level up is a game that could target a health problem that was a function of a system problem.  That is, a game that targeted a health problem that resulted not from someone’s genetics, but from set of processes and systems that are outside of any one individual’s control.  Imagine a game that’s designed to get some producers to make healthier food.

Games For Health Conference: A Q&A with Dan Baden, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

May 20, 2011, 9:46 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

Before this week's Games for Health Conference kicked-off, NewPublicHealth had the opportunity to interview panelist Dan Baden, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Public Health Practice, about gaming for health. Below is the full Q&A, which originally appeared on NewPublicHealth earier in the week. 

NPH: You’re a panelist at the conference. What will you be speaking about?

Baden: I’m talking about an overview of CDC and some of the activities that we’ve done in the past. We have several simulations that I’m going to focus on.  One is for people training miners–how they can safely evacuate mines during emergencies.  We’ve got a health policy game that I’m going to highlight.  And we have some flu activities for people to participate in, such as giving out information about  flu vaccines.

NPH: What is the critical mass that you need in order for the games to be able to deliver public health messages?

Baden: I think that they can be used to deliver public health messages at any size.  But actually the number of people involved in games is enormous.  The organizer of the conference was speaking in the same panel as I was in earlier today and was saying that of all demographic groups, only males over age 55 indicate that they watch more TV than use  the computer.  All the other demographic groups say they use the computer for multiple purposes  and more than they watch TV. And the largest group of people to use what are called “‘casual games” is women between the age-mid 20s to mid 50s.  There are lots of people that are doing this right now.

Back to the other part of your question, an individual game I think can have an impact.  There is one called Madden Football. It’s a video game where you have a football team and you run them through different games.  But for this year’s version they are incorporating a new concussion policy.  So if your player has a concussion during the game, your player is out for the game, and you’re not allowed to bring them in.  Whereas in the past you could bring them in the next quarter. [The new rules of the game are ]consistent with current concussion therapy.

NPH:  Can you think of other examples where the game isn’t set up to be a public health game–but what you can do is incorporate appropriate, correct, accurate, vetted public health messages in almost any game?

Baden: There are many.  There are lots of car race games, for example.  And you can have people in the race game who are using seat belts and restraints or helmets. Or if you want to twist it the other way–I don’t know if this is out there–but if you have a game where someone’s driving around recklessly in their car–if they don’t wear their seat belt–maybe they have a higher chance of being ejected from the car and having consequences from not following that preventive measure. There’s many ways you can incorporate public health messages into these games without converting or corrupting the game itself.

NPH:  What’s something at next year’s conference you’d like to see–a game that has a larger message or a particular message–maybe HIV prevention?

Baden: I would like to see games that focus on other winnable battles that CDC has  priorities such as tobacco control, improved nutrition, increased physical activity and tobacco control, for example.

NPH: You were talking about men over 55 not being a particular demographic group that uses computers more than they watch television.  But that is a demographic group that could use some of the benefits you have shown in the games–like seat belt protection, safe driving, safe sex.  Will that be a goal for you do you think?  To figure out how to engage men in that age group in using these games for positive impact as well?

Baden: I think we’ll probably stick with our traditional methods for now. We’re already having outreach to them–rather than try and drive people to games. Though they’re probably going to go there eventually on their own, and at that point are likely to find even more public health messages than now.

Project ECHO Profiled in Health Affairs

May 19, 2011, 12:18 PM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

 Project ECHO, a Pioneer supported project, is fundamentally changing the way health care is provided across the United States, bringing best-practice specialty care to patients with chronic health conditions, wherever they are. Millions of Americans suffering from serious chronic illnesses have severely limited access to specialty care because they live in underserved areas, both rural and urban. At the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, social innovator Sanjeev Arora, M.D., developed this disruptive model of health education and delivery to eliminate the distance barrier so that primary care doctors in underserved areas can provide top-quality care for complex conditions locally.

A Health Affairs Web First, released online today and appearing in the June edition of the journal, provides an in-depth profile of Project ECHO as an example of delivery system innovation, describing how the program leverages videoconferencing technology to train primary care doctors to deliver specialty care in their local settings and create large, real-time knowledge networks. In this way, ECHO exponentially expands the capacities of the health care workforce, providing “health care without walls.”

2011 Games for Health Conference Wraps up Today

May 19, 2011, 9:38 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team


After a riveting two days of presentations and demonstrations at the 2011 Games for Health Conference, we’re a bit sad to say that today’s activities mark the close of another amazing event. Now in our seventh year of sponsoring the Conference, we’ve seen it grow from a humble gathering  consisting mostly of videogame developers to what we witnessed this week – a highly energized event that attracted nearly 500 multi-disciplinary thought leaders in health care, academia, research, policy making, and – of course – game development.

The content at this year’s Conference has been just as diverse as those attending it. From the inclusion of new tracks focused on mobile gaming and sensor technology, to yesterday’s keynote address delivered by the founding father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, we saw first-hand just how much the landscape is broadening. The amount of legitimate excitement arising across so many disciplines and specialties is truly exciting.

If you’re just tuning into the conversation now, we encourage you to read full coverage of the conference and a few great perspectives on the future of the field, as wonderfully detailed by our blogger friends in attendance. Notably, Gamasutra’s Dennis Scimmeca posted a fantastic Q&A yesterday with Seligman and Games for Health Director Ben Sawyer, which details the potential Positive Psychology has to move health games forward. Also, Bridgett Collado provided a nice overview of Monday’s preconference happenings on Pulse + Signal.

Today’s presentations – highlighted by a discussion from Google Health Chief Strategist Roni Zeiger – promise to be just as impactful as the previous two days’. Our team will continue to tweet highlights and capture other content that we will share with you soon, including some of the innovative ideas our on-site thought activity is capturing. You can follow the conversation as it unfolds via the hashtag #g4h11.  If you’re attending the Games for Health Conference, feel free to leave us a comment and let us know what you think of this year’s event.