Roundtable on Innovations in Games – Better Health and Health Care – White House, Washington, DC

This event was held at the White House Conference Center on Feb 1, 2012. The graphical recorder did such a good job of taking notes, if you’d rather learn what happened from his work, feel free to click on any of the images above.

As I was communicating with my brother about the blog post I published earlier this week, I mentioned that I would be going to a roundtable on gaming in health care. Here’s what he wrote back to me:

What’s gaming in health care? You mean fraud? (question from Ted’s brother)

Hmmm..what does this question say how our nation’s physicians see and feel leadership by our policy makers? I’ll comment on that below. In the meantime, here’s what the roundtable was about:

Gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. Typically gamification applies to non-game applications and processes (also known as “funware”), in order to encourage people to adopt them. Gamification works by making technology more engaging[3], by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.

I used the Wikipedia definition of Gamification because I think it encompasses both games themselves, and the essence of what game designers understand and are experts in. The rock stars of this field that I know of are Ben’s Game ( cancer treatment ), Project: Re-Mission ( cancer treatment ), and SnowWorld ( burn treatment ). Several of the organizations that produced these works were in the room.

I learned many things…

  1. It’s undeniable that there is a talented pool of game designers and producers that want to help improve health care. As an example, the international game developers association.
  2. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has hired a Senior Policy Analyst that studies the civic potential of video games. Her name is Constance Steinkuehler.
  3. An ad-hoc heat map of game “stars” (see this image) initially populated most heavily in the health promotion / physical game space. There are more areas where games could be deployed beyond individual behavior change, we are still early in that journey.
  4. There seemed to be a theme of mismatch/hopeful opportunity/frustration around how and when this media would be used in health and health care. This encompassed everything from business case to evidence base to roles/funding/private/public, all the things that happen with new media and new technology in health care.
  5. A nice elucidation of what games and game mechanics can accomplish that are not the norm in health care (see this image, on the right column).
      Two that stuck out for me:

    • “Creating experiences that all human beings should have in their lifetime, such as being, informed, empowered, confident in their abilities” and
    • “Learning about making investments for long term gain”

One thought on the matchmaking, a quote from Steve Jobs

The theme of “mismatch” came across to me in that there are gaming designers that don’t know much about health care, how it’s delivered, sold, operated, and people in health care who don’t know much about games, how they are produced, what is produced, how people think in this art. Both want to learn.

I happened to just finish the Steve Jobs biography, and I was struck by his quote about the stalemate (at the time) between the music industry and the technology industry. I have always thought that the connection of the two would be a no-brainer, but I have grown up with technology. It was interesting to hear that there really was a gulf, and Apple brought it together through hard work with a foundation of love:

The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter. The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do.

We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much. (Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (Kindle Locations 7053-7054). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

(who will love health care as much as Apple loved music?)

This was a great discussion for its ability to unearth these differences, the idea that we are still early in understanding the potential, and that I got to see my good friends Lygeia Ricciardi (@lygeia) and Wil Yu (@hlthinnovation) front and center in supporting the interests of patients.

To my brother’s initial reaction to what “gaming in health care” is, I think this conversation also helps our policy makers speak to physicians in a metropolis like Phoenix (which is a long long way from the ideals of Washington) in a different way. Instead of perceiving new innovation initiatives through the lens of punishment, there’s a potential to for doctors and all of the people who commit their lives to helping people to learn about innovation through the lens of inspiration. It can be done – and they’re worth it :).


Ted – thanks for posting this, especially helpful for me to see a recap as I couldn’t make it over in person. What was the key take away?

I am really interested in your music + tech analogy and taking that further. Do you really think the folks at one organization didn’t love music as much as at another? While that certainly could be true – and especially if the ipod team had former musicians/amateur musicians on the immediate team vs Zune I could see this having a big impact. But that is an issue of background/perspective and skill set. I would love to know what the folks at Zune would say.

@GHideas Dear Aman,

Thanks for taking a look and for picking up on the analogy, which I left hanging to get some smart(er) people’s thoughts.

I interpreted when I read it as “we loved music so much that we took the time to understand what made consumers happy about listening to it, and what motivated musicians to make it and love making it.”

Just as Apple came to a point, that no one else came to, where the artists, industry executives, and music lovers all said, “this works,” could the same happen here? That’s what came to my mind when I was listening to the discussion on Wednesday – what do you think?


@HITManZac We haven’t met; I’m always interested in hearing from others with similar goals, especially if the connection’s thru @tedeytan

HI Ted,

Thanks for the blog post, for plugging the International Game Developers Association, and for getting my good side in the photos!

To answer GHideas, the takeaway for me is that the White House really gets it about innovative new technologies and is serious about reducing barriers to the kinds of innovations that can improve health care and reduce costs. Not only were they willing to consider a wide range of options, but they knew are more about the subject going in than I expected. That meant we could begin the discussions at a very high level. We got a lot more done than I though possible.

Ted Eytan, MD