Team game dynamics, not personal tools, fix healthcare

When Adam Bosworth first tried to tackle health care with his start-up Keas, he went with a classic Silicon Valley approach. He leveraged data, visualization, mobile and web 2.0 to create paid personalized tools to tell people what they should do to improve their health.
“It didn’t work,” he said. “It didn’t work at all.”
Bosworth, who led Google (s GOOG) Health, was chief architect at Bea Systems and helped develop XML, found that people were too stressed and overworked to improve their health and this cycle just fed upon itself with people making bad eating choices. Providing extra data wasn’t inducing people to break the cycle, he said. What has worked, at least initially, is turning health care into a game that employees can play, with feedback and competition coming from fellow workers.
Keas is just a few months now into its new direction, which is selling the new gamified system to big employers and drug companies. The ideas is to split workers into teams of six and let them compete by racking up points for exercise and eating well with people in the community able to encourage each other. Keas has about 60,000 workers now using the system and in September, it found that 60-70 percent of employees were coming back each week and 30-40 percent were using it every week.
“You tell someone to do something incredibly tough for a year, but that’s not an inducement. They switch the TV to the game channel. We’re the game channel,” said Bosworth, the CTO of San Francisco-based Keas, told the crowd at GigaOM RoadMap on Thursday.
He said the health care system is incredibly hard to transform, likening it to an eternal fountain of garbage that continues to spew out the same trash. He said the system is stacked against innovation because doctors and insurers are incentivized to keep the status quo, keeping patients as sick as possible short of dying. The key is in end-run solutions like Keas, which work around the traditional health care system and government regulations, Bosworth said. And it’s in targeting employers, who pay for their employee health plans and stand to gain the most by improving the health of their workers. It’s the only way, he said, to cut into health care costs that totaled $2.5 trillion in 2009 and are expected to represent 20 percent of GDP in a few years.
Bosworth said it’s still early for Keas and the test is to see if the program can instill real habit changes. But he believes this the way to attack health care for the masses who aren’t currently working on the problem.
Photo by Pinar Ozger.