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Can this Utah Health Plan Reel in 20-Somethings with a Gamified App?

By Jonah Comstock

03:11 pm

Arches beginningJust in time for the start of open enrollment, a Utah health plan has devised a mobile app solution to the problem of convincing so-called “young invincibles” to sign up for health coverage: a gamified app they hope will educate users about the costs of being uninsured. Arches Health Plan is a 27,000-member co-op health plan funded by provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

“We were on college campuses talking to this demographic,” Tricia McGarry-Schumann, Chief Marketing Officer for Arches, told MobiHealthNews. “It became pretty evident they did not understand how costly [health] services are, particularly services related to the typical lifestyle in Utah which is a very active one. We have a lot of skiers here, hikers, bikers, cyclists, and they generally have no idea services are so expensive.”

The app, called “Arches Saves Your Bacon” aims to give users an idea of how different behaviors affect their health risks and how much they can cost them. First, the user spins a wheel to generate six behaviors that range from mundane behaviors (binge-watching Netflix) to extreme sports (skiing or skateboarding) to just plain silly entries (one just says “BEES!!”, for instance).

After the user answers a few questions about themselves, the game has them click through each month of the year as it randomly flashes from green to yellow to red. If it’s green, the user is rewarded with a safe month, yellow turns out a minor incident, and red is a catastrophic accident that leads to a game over. The incidents are paired with two money amounts — the cost with and without insurance — but also with a little story tied to one of the risk factors the user initially selected.

Arches partnered with the University of Utah Entertainment Arts and Engineering program to develop the app. They have a prior relationship with the University because Arches contracts with the UU health system. In particular, Arches partnered with the University’s Center for Medical Innovation. The Gapp Lab, a program focused on development of therapeutic medical video games, created the app.

The University is also the home of the Sorenson Center for Discovery & Innovation, where Chris Wasden, formerly a well-known digital health consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, is executive director. CMI director John Langell brought Wasden on to help develop the app.

“We are grateful for the confidence that Arches has shown in having our talented students create a commercially valuable health game,” Wasden said in a statement, “and we look forward to helping other organizations address their business challenges through apps and games.”

Arches endingHaving students working on the app was a good fit, McGarry-Schumann said, because they’re so close in age to the demographic the app is aimed at.

“In [our] brainstorming discussions, it became really clear that they understood this demographic really well and they came up with a lot of great ideas,” she said. “One of those ideas was gamification, and getting away from that standard insurer attitude, where we have to be an approachable company and come to them as much as asking them to come to us. That was a critical component, introducing some gaming aspects toward the educational aspect we had.”

McGarry-Schumann says the company waited to release and publicize the app until right before open enrollment, because the millenial demographic they’re after is also notorious for short attention spans. She said, however, that the technology has been designed so other insurers, outside of the local Utah market can repurpose it easily if they’re interested.

“Part of our mandate is to make sure the market has access to healthcare coverage and it’s easy and affordable,” she said. “If this app and solutions like this actually improve and move that needle a bit we want to encourage that. We did make a significant investment in building this technology, but we’ve also tried to keep it open as possible so it can be used by others.”

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