Game Dynamics & Geo Location – Will HIPAA Kill It?

As a result of bringing location-based social networking to the masses, Facebook Places will also bring us game dynamics. This will have huge implications for local businesses, including hospitals, medical practices and other healthcare providers. Let’s look at the implications and opportunities that the adoption of this technology will have for medical providers.

What are game dynamics?

If you’ve got 10 minutes, you may want to watch the highly distributed TED video “The Game Layer on Top of the World” (scroll to the bottom of this article for the video). In short, it’s just a fancy name for a range of incentives that reward desired behavior. We’ve had game dynamics in the “real world” for a long time, but it has recently been taken to an impressively powerful level in social gaming platforms, making social game developers very credible when talking about changing social behavior.


You can find game dynamics in almost every industry and location. Here are a few examples:

  • Appointment dynamic: you are rewarded for visiting at a specific time. Happy Hours.
  • Status dynamic: shaping of behavior through social pressure/status. Colored Credit Cards reflecting status.
  • Progression dynamic: success is earned gradually by completing a set of tasks. LinkedIn profile progress bar.

These are just a few of the many game dynamics out there.  Many more can be found in real life or social gaming platforms. We’ll come back with more in the next blog.


Changing healthcare behavior

None of these basic concepts are new. Game dynamics or incentive dynamics have been with us since the beginning of man. Call it cause and effect, action and reaction.

What’s new is the application of these dynamics. Geo location+social networks+game dynamics would certainly have multitudes of applications within the healthcare industry. Expect to see them in action at hospitals, medical groups, physician offices, etc. We will see these new applications of game dynamics change behavior in patients, their family members, and providers themselves. Why? Because in time it will be clear, scientifically, that these methods and tools can bring about better outcomes.


The badges displayed above are from the UK program Walk once a Week, encouraging school pupils to walk to school at least once a week to earn a badge.


“40,000 foot level” applications that game dynamics can have in healthcare

Here are just three areas where we will see game dynamics+geo location+social media play a role:

1. Improving Outcomes

Game dynamics created by medical practices, hospitals, and healthcare organizations to improve outcomes (after treatment, after injury, for program participants, patients with chronic diseases etc.)

2. Preventive Medicine

Game dynamics created by employers, schools, and insurance companies that shape behavior in order to reduce healthcare risks and costs, thus improving productivity and lowering costs.

3. Broaden Service Awareness

Game dynamics employed by healthcare providers and communities to spread health information, awareness of healthcare offerings and possible threats.


At HealthCamp San Diego last month, I shared some ideas that relate to a diabetes clinic we work with that makes use of this new frontier. In next week’s blog we’ll go down to the ground level and share similar ideas and give examples of using Game Dynamics+Geo Location+Social Media with different healthcare providers and medical specialties.


Will HIPAA Kill It?

One challenge that all industries are going to face is the need to keep innovating. Certain game layer rewards will quickly become “old” and thus not create behavior change. Healthcare providers will always need to innovate, create new ideas and reward systems, and find new applications.

Challenges specific to the healthcare industry are obviously related to Personal Health Information regulations, HIPAA and other applicable laws. They will no doubt shape much of what will be possible.  However, that being said, don’t reject the idea of game dynamics because of these laws. Human creativity will always find ways to make things happen no matter how much red tape is present. I am sure people and organizations will find ways to construct geo location and game dynamics that can work in harmony with these laws.

More importantly, those who will be “rewarded” in the healthcare industry are not those who dwell on the areas where game dynamics will not work, but rather those who can envision where it will flourish.


Where to go from here?

What Facebook Places, Foursquare, SCVNGR and other public geo location services do for us is to bring these game dynamics to the masses–making people comfortable with these new ideas and pushing the boundaries. Even private or closed medical usage of geo location and game dynamics will benefit greatly by being able to piggy back on this shift. Perhaps we will see that in some areas within healthcare, Facebook Places will do the initial seeding of the fields, while private mobile medical apps will reap the harvest.

Many flinch at the whole geo location idea because it’s another invasion of people’s privacy; add game dynamics and it quickly can sound outright creepy.

You can count me as one of those with privacy objection to these technologies. However, I have absolutely no doubt that masses will adopt them. When I remind myself of the major change (obliteration) Facebook alone has made to people’s privacy boundaries in just a couple of years, I am convinced that this will happen.


At HealthCamp San Diego, Dr. Jeff Benabio, aka @dermdoc, started off one of the un-conference sessions about geo location with the question; “Is Privacy Dead?”

Are we there already? Has Mark Zuckerberg won the battle against privacy and HIPAA?


TED video “The Game Layer on Top of the World”

Audun Utengen

Audun Utengen - @audvin

Sharing research from the Healthcare Social Graph®. Co-founder, CEO of @symplur. Advisor to @MayoClinicSMN. ❤️ #Parkinsons, #Schizophrenia, #PancreaticCancer