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Gamification is Becoming Serious Business in Healthcare

March 19, 2015

gamificationGamification – the trend of creating computer-based employee games and contests for the purpose of aligning employee productivity with the organization’s goals – is currently a popular topic with business leaders and IT. For proof, consider that Gartner recently projected that by 2015, 50 percent of all organizations will be using gamification of some kind, and that by 2016, businesses will spend a total of $2.6 billion on this technology.[1]


With numbers like these, it is clear that that gaming is serious business and that it is here to stay. But at this point, you may be asking yourself, “Could gamification work in my healthcare environment? What potential benefits could it have?”


Today, many healthcare organizations are looking to the future and considering gamification as a way to increase employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity as well as to align their behavior with larger business goals – but they don’t know how to do it quite yet. Also, gamification can be a delicate decision, complete with advantages and risks. After all, employees’ day-to-day work responsibilities and careers are not games and can’t be trivialized. Healthcare organizations must be careful to avoid sending the wrong message to their workforce, or the whole program could backfire, or even lead to more negative consequences.


A Closer Look at Gamification in Healthcare

Why should gamification be so attractive to healthcare organizations, and how does it work? Quite simply, gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and techniques to motivate people to achieve a particular goal. The most common methods include the use of points, badges, levels, and leaderboards. Many games also include the aspect of a community to offer even more collaboration and encouragement.


It’s a familiar concept for individual users. There are already many games and apps designed to help people achieve a specific health or fitness goal such as games that promote running, exercise, and nutrition. There are even more specialized games to help users with specific issues like helping patients remember to take medication or helping children manage their diabetes. By tapping into people’s natural desires related to competition, collaboration, and achievement – in a fun way – these games can be very effective in changing behaviors and outcomes.


Innovative healthcare organizations are now attempting to use these same principles for their employees. Their hope is that these games will improve employee engagement and productivity while also generating better results for the overall organization – the ultimate win-win scenario.


Gamification in Action: Workforce Management

One area where gamification could deliver significant benefits is workforce management. Functions such as scheduling, time and attendance, training, can be time-consuming to manage or suffer from low voluntary participation. This means that managers tend to waste time getting employees to sign up for shifts, stay current on training and policy changes, complete self-assessments, participate in candidate-referral programs, and more.


Yet with gamifcation, these workforce management challenges can become opportunities for improvement. Employees are already familiar with frequent flyer points and loyalty programs, so applying this same concept to workforce management can be perceived as an extension of consumer practices to business use. When implemented effectively, games and contests engage employees, foster collaboration and team building, and increase productivity. Additionally, by aligning the games’ goals with larger “business” objectives, healthcare organizations can reap a number of significant organizational benefits.


Prizes could include just about anything that employees might find compelling or rewarding, such a VIP parking spot of the month, movie tickets, gift cards, group lunches or other events, and more.


Proceed with Caution

Implementing the right gamification technology is not as easy as it may seem. For example, the same Gartner research report predicted that up to 80 percent of workplace game apps will fail, often with adverse effects.[2] As healthcare organizations attempt to develop the right games and contests, they must be aware of their audience and how these games will be perceived by that group. For example, the healthcare workforce is currently comprised of different generations of workers. Where baby boomers may see games and contests as frivolous, millennials are already familiar with gaming may embrace the concept, but could be turned off if they are not truly easy to use and deliver results.


In addition, they can’t be games just for games’ sake. This means that the gamification strategy has to be tied to something valuable and can’t be perceived as a distraction. Employees’ work lives are serious business, so healthcare organizations will need to do all they can to avoid seeming like they’re turning careers into games.


Gamification as a Competitive Edge

Like any other technology implementation, healthcare organizations must evaluate the underlying challenges and outline the benefits they hope to achieve from gamification. They must also carefully consider their employees and take care to roll out a game or contest that all employees will embrace – and not perceive as just another task they must do. If these organizations can successfully develop the right strategy and the right execution, gamification can be an effective way to help them achieve significant – and long-lasting – benefits.

  1. Gartner, Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT, November 2012.

[2] Gartner, Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT, November 2012.

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