Humana Aims to Reach Consumers Through Games

Humana hopes to encourage its members to take better care of themselves by offering information and motivation in a fun way--through playing video games.

The new initiative, called Games for Health, has the potential to revolutionize the way the Louisville, Ky.-based health care provider engages its 11.3 million members, says Dr. Miguel Encarnação, Humana's Innovation Center director of advanced human-media interfaces.

In addition to making the health care provider more attractive to potential new customers, the company also will use what it learns to develop marketing materials.

"Obviously, gaming by its nature is very close to human nature," says Encarnação. "We already use games as a learning medium and a medium for socializing. What we are trying to do is use this medium more broadly. People have an easier time of engaging with others through games. And it's an easier way for them to engage with their health care provider and provide a two-way channel for them to communicate their needs."



For example, Humana hopes to find out via monitoring consumers who are playing the games "in a very casual way what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong," says Encarnação. "We can observe their behavior and then can target our educational materials and initiatives accordingly."

A team has been established within Humana's Innovation Center to find the best ways to connect with consumers using game technology. In collaboration with Serious Games pioneer Digitalmill Inc., Humana is evaluating all aspects of the games. Humana is also sponsoring students from the University of Southern California's GamePipe Laboratory for advanced research and development of new game interfaces in an effort to tie real world exercise to virtual worlds.

In addition, Humana is working with Touchtown Inc. to develop a new service to transform the way wellness and fitness programs are delivered in senior facilities. This new service will use state-of-the-art gaming technology to improve the coordination, endurance and physical health of older adults. A similar approach is planned to address obesity in children through entertaining exercise technologies.

"We are going to use a multiple of mediums to reach our members, including online and console, Wii (Nintendo) type games," says Paul Puopolo, Humana's director of consumer experience. "It's going to be very holistic."

About 67% of the population plays some type of online or video games, he says. They range from the "serious" gamers who play several times per day to "one timers" who play only occasionally. "Across that, we're going to take very specific strategies depending on the segment," Puopolo says. "For example, women love casual games, the quick and easy games."

Research, development and partnership plans are kicking off now while the games are expected to roll out next year, Encarnação says. "We have a significant research initiative," he says. "There are a lot of games that pretend to address health, but nobody has studied what the impact actually is. So it's very important for us to do the research."

Logistics are stilling be worked out as to how to get the games to consumers, Encarnação says. Downloading games off the Humana Web site is probably the easiest way. Console games may be mailed to consumers on request. Humana may also install peripherals within nursing homes and make them available, he says. It has not been determined whether there will be a charge for any of the various games.

In order to better understand the influence of game technology on consumers, Humana is working with Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the Games for Health Project, and J.C. Herz, an expert in social networking and multiplayer online worlds, to address the opportunities to close the gap between electronic games and health.

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