Health plans leverage social networking and gaming to improve clinical outcomes.

Social media is a near universal presence in today's healthcare landscape, offering a variety of applications and tools that instantly connect people and information when, where and how they need it. A 2010 brief on social networks in healthcare by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions reports that approximately one-third of Americans use social networks to find fellow patients and discuss their medical conditions, and 36 percent of social network users evaluate and leverage other consumers' knowledge before making healthcare decisions.

Major health plans are leveraging the power of social networking by investing in new population health management and behavioral modification programs that combine clinical principles, game mechanics and social technologies to engage members, track and record health progress, improve clinical outcomes and reduce treatment costs.

Community power

Online social networking programs with disease-specific communities are an important and growing health management tool. These programs utilize the collective influence of family, friends and peers with similar conditions to empower members to achieve specific health goals and sustain behavior change. Available 24/7 to participating members, programs can offer immediate support and be customized to meet individual needs by providing a variety of ways to share information with peers such as forums, group chats, online meetings and storytelling.

Members can access a global network and interact with hundreds of people with their same medical condition. Individuals can participate anonymously or openly in giving and seeking advice.

Studies indicate that focused social networking groups with common goals tend to be more successful because of the ongoing community support received from similarly motivated users sharing the same experience.

Engage through game mechanics

Game mechanics, also referred to as gamification or gaming, increase and reward user engagement by using feedback mechanisms traditionally found in games.

To help engage participants, encourage healthy choices and influence behavior change, some social networking platforms are starting to use game mechanics such as points, levels, badges, challenges and leaderboards to meet basic motivators related to achievement and reward. Participants are incentivized to earn points and badges that work behind the scenes to drive positive next steps, motivate healthy decisions and, ultimately, ensure the desired behavior.

Gaming elements provide positive feedback to help members gain self-confidence and self-efficiency, map progress against established goals and compare their results to other members. Game mechanics also help participants to easily identify reliable contributors and trustworthy members in the program.

Early studies suggest that gaming concepts are particularly beneficial in driving behavior change that supports improved health and wellness outcomes, such as addiction recovery, weight loss and smoking cessation.

Improved outcomes

A social networking and behavioral change management program is currently being piloted by five large national health plans for members who have addiction-related disorders. The online program provides a safe, supportive space for members to share stories, work on their recovery and mutually support one another.

Preliminary data from the pilot studies indicate that the majority of members who were invited to visit the website by their health plans enroll in the program. Of those members registering to join, nearly half returned to the website two or more times, demonstrating persistent user engagement.

The program is showing promising results for reducing readmissions and total healthcare costs relative to alternative care management cohorts. Outcomes are being attained without any financial incentive or additional interventions by care managers.

Social networking programs have tremendous potential to engage members suffering from chronic health conditions. Through community peer support, accountability and goal setting, members are motivated and reinforced to change behavior, taking ownership of their personal treatment and recovery plan, leading to better health outcomes.

Just as they have done in other industries, social networking and gaming are creating a quantum shift in healthcare. The question that people need to be asking is not whether or not it is going to happen, but rather, “How best do we prepare for it?”

About the author:

David Metzler is CEO, OneRecovery, Inc., located in Solana Beach, Calif. For more information on OneRecovery:

The power of community
By: HMT Mag
The Source for Healthcare Information Systems Solutions