Social, Mobile, and Gamification: A Recipe for mHealth Success

This morning's session Harnessing the Power of Social Media and Mobile Technology to Engage Consumers at the mHealth Summit was a popular one, and with good reason. Social and mobile strategies in health care are becoming increasingly important and, when combined with gaming strategies, create what was described in the opening address as the "trifecta of effectiveness" when it comes to engaging patients.

National Harbor, MD — This morning’s session Harnessing the Power of Social Media and Mobile Technology to Engage Consumers at the mHealth Summit was a popular one, and with good reason. Social and mobile strategies in health care are becoming increasingly important and, when combined with gaming strategies, create what was described in the opening address as the "trifecta of effectiveness” when it comes to engaging patients.

Charles Teague, CEO of LoseIt.com, spoke about his LoseIt mobile application--a “behavioral solution” that offers users the chance to enjoy weight loss by establishing easy-to-meet daily calorie budgets; staying on track of food and exercise; and engaging in peer-to-peer interaction with their combination of global and ‘closed’ social networking tools.

“Peer support doubles efficacy” said Teague, adding that social networking “has allowed users to lose 7 million pounds, with the average active LoseIt user dropping roughly 12 lbs.”

Teague mentioned that, though every business model is different, the more established social media sites like Facebook have less of an impact when it comes to Loselt users’ success. Users engaging in more niche, closed environments seem to find it easier to lose weight.

The reason for this undoubtedly comes from the fact that users are more inclined to be active and supportive in a forum where others have the same goal. It’s unlikely that those same users will want to divulge personal information about their weight loss on general social networking sites like Facebook, where they are interacting with a network of people that they know personally. “Users are less inclined to tweet their weight,” Teague said.

Elaborating on the success of their social networking strategy, Teague said that, “when predicting who would stay engaged, we found the majority only had 3 or 4 peers,” adding that “the strongest feature was that it provided pressure to continue that interaction.”

Jonathan Javitt, CEO of Telcare Inc., a company that develops cellular-enabled glucose meters for diabetes patients worldwide, agrees with Teague. Through the Telcare blood glucose monitoring (BGM) system, a 3G cellular-enabled blood glucose meter transmits glucose values to a care-management server and provides feedback and coaching to patients with diabetes. The electronic device keeps a two-way communication between patients and caregivers.

“Facebook and Twitter, though useful, are not built for quantitative interaction like health apps are going to need to be,” said Javitt. He added that, with HIPAA-protected data, you should be able to remove information unlike with traditional social media networks, where the information is “forever.”

When the subject of social media “gaming” came up, such as the offering users badges and incentives as a way to foster higher levels of interaction, Javitt was quick to point out that, if done the right way, this model can be highly effective.

“As long as people see that badges have value other than pixels on a screen, such as a diabetes-friendly dessert at a local restaurant, then we’ve unlocked a psychological door.”

Teague replied that, in their experience with LoseIt.com, “if offered a piece of pizza or a badge, people generally take the pizza.”