HARTFORD, CT – More and more, payers and providers are finding new and innovative ways in which video games can foster better health.
Last February, the Department of Defense's TRICARE health plan put Linden Labs' Second Life game to work, creating a virtual world where active-duty servicemen can spend time with their families while overseas. In April, VA hospitals launched a pilot program in which veterans with brain injuries play video games as part of their rehab process.
Now Aetna has taken a page from that book, announcing in May a collaboration with Mindbloom, a Seattle-based social media company.
The partnership will see Aetna offering plan members an enhanced version of its Life Game, which Dan Brostek, Aetna's head of member and consumer engagement, calls a "multi-channel user experience centered around personally-structured behavior change."
Starting this fall, Aetna members will have access to Mindbloom's creation, which blends the technology and art of gaming with behavioral psychology. As part of Life Game, a player grows and tends to a personalized virtual “life tree” – that can be part of a forest of their family's and friends' trees – earning rewards in the game as they achieve wellness milestones in their real-life areas such as health, spirituality, relationships, leisure, lifestyle, finances, creativity and career.
“Most of us recognize the value of maintaining healthy, balanced lives yet we continually fail to make healthy behaviors a consistent priority," said Mindbloom CEO Brent Poole. "By incorporating social networking, multimedia, a virtual rewards system and psychology-based gaming mechanics – and making it all accessible through mobile phones, email and social media channels – Mindbloom is bringing the missing ingredient of personal engagement to the wellness equation.”
Aetna's interest in Life Tree has to do with "trying to do new and interesting things around user engagement," said Brostek. "We've done lots of research in this space, and what's come back time and time again is that people want a way to interact around their well-being. And they want it to be fun, want it to be easy, and want it to be rewarding."
Americans spend more than $200 billion a year on healthy living products and services, said Aetna's medical director of eHealth and wellness, Kyra Bobinet, MD. Yet obesity and other chronic health problems are still on the rise. This is a way to "keep people's intentions around changing their lives and maintaining a healthy lifestyle top of mind," she said.
In a stressful world filled with omnipresent technological stimulus, Life Game is an "emotionally rewarding" way to harness that technology, she said, "so people can continue to remind themselves who they want to be."
Bobinet argued that "behavior change in this new era has to take the form of things that are engaging." And as people seek escape from the tumult and confusion of daily life, "it makes sense to have something that will create clarity and organization and fun."
So far, "there's a lot of interest in an offering like this to supplement the wellness capabilities we already have," said Brostek. "Our plan sponsors are facing the same challenges we are: In this world where work/life balance seems impossible to achieve, how do you carve out more time for people to engage with their health and well-being?"
Something like Mindbloom's Life Game "is really of great interest, because they realize that people do go home at night and play games like CityVille and FarmVille," he said. "Clearly there's an energy around that." The hope is that games such as this can "inspire and motivate and get people on track with their action plans."