Patient engagement is an ongoing challenge for pediatricians. One strategy that can help is gamification. Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity in order to increase productivity in that area. The idea is a fairly new one, with the term only being coined in 2008. It did not even become popular until 2010, so the concept is still in its early stages.
Dr. Robin Warner of Union Pediatrics in Kentucky is an innovator in the use of gamification. Her story is an example of how gamification can improve problems like low engagement with online screenings or low rates of well visits, among other things. In 2013 she attended the American Academy of Pediatrics conference, where there was a presentation about patient engagement. A couple months after the conference, Chip Hart at PCC started a New Year's Resolution contest in hopes of getting more patients to pay attention, making the work of pediatricians easier. Dr. Warner decided to participate in the challenge and put together a program for her patients.
What was the pediatric gamification program like?
The program was created for the participation of children and parents alike. There was a chart with different activities on it, and a corresponding number of points awarded for each task. Activities that earned them points were things like exercise, eating well, attending an appointment, and completing online screenings before a well visit. Then, at the end of the month, everyone who reached their goal would be entered into a pool. Out of that pool a certain number of people would be chosen at random to receive a gift card.
Dr. Warner's gamification program grew into a big thing with her patients, and as more and more people started participating, it became difficult to keep track of everything on paper. This led to a shift from manual recording of data to an app. Kids and parents could download the app onto their phones and complete tasks for a certain number of points, just as they had using the previous system. Only this time, instead of the office needing to record the activity points on paper, the app did that for them. Dr. Warner ended up winning Chip's competition, as well as three others that year, including a river cruise in Italy. As she puts it, "I won a game by gaming."
After three years of this system being in place, patient engagement became habitual, and during this time the percentage of scheduled appointments rose from 17% to 62%. She was even able to get to the point where she was scheduling patients a whole year in advance.
At this point, Dr. Warner decided to begin retiring the app and introducing a new social media page instead called "Read Run Root." The "read" part stands for reading for pleasure, in an attempt to control screen time. "Run" is for exercise, whether that be actually running or doing yoga or stretching. "Root" is for eating the correct amount of fruits and vegetables each day. This initiative is still in the early stages and Dr. Warner is working on turning it into a great resource for her clients. In the meantime, the app is still running.
Can gamification work in any pediatric practice?
Dr. Warner says that the results of her gamification program astonished her, and her practice has become more efficient as a result. She would "recommend some form of it to any practice out there, as it increases patient engagement." She even suggested that a practice could gamify their staff, in order to keep up good work ethic and be more productive.
When it comes down to it, some people just need the extra push gamification can give, and who doesn't like prizes? If it helps patient engagement, then it is always worth a try.