Gaming Challenge Heads into Phase II: Make it Work

Last year two Johns Hopkins University medical students got on stage at Health Datapalooza III and accepted a $100,000 check. Since then, many have heard of the duo’s company called Symcat. The Symcat app, an online symptom checker, was the winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Aligning Forces Challenge.

Again RWJF will award a prize of the same amount on stage this year, but this time, the rules of the competition are a little different. The challenge still specifies that participating teams should focus on improving community health. However, they’ll have to throw a little bit of entertainment into their approach.

“We didn’t think that we necessarily wanted to introduce more app noise into the field, but we were really intrigued by the opportunity for a game,” Michael Painter, MD, a RWJF senior program officer, said. He is a judge and coordinator of the Games to Generate Data Challenge.

For the past couple of years RWJF has separately been supporting efforts to look at uses for gaming in health care. This challenge combines the organization’s interest in the field with its drive to maximize the utility of data collected through two initiatives, Aligning Forces for Quality and County Health Rankings. The entrants will have to incorporate these and other datasets into their app.

The two-part challenge is already underway, and five winners have just been selected to move through to the second phase. Check out the teams and their ideas here. For now, most of these submissions are just compelling and well-thought-out concepts. “We wanted to give the app developers the opportunity to sort of pitch great ideas without being constrained, at least at the outset, with spending a lot of time developing,” Painter said.

The next step involves translating these ideas into functional games — ones that simultaneously work to improve health as well as generate data that can be incorporated into further efforts to improve health. That’s why they call it a challenge.

The next mile marker for these teams is the Games for Health Conference, which will take place in Boston in June. After the event they’ll have four weeks to submit their final applications. And finally, it will be someone else’s turn to get up on stage and accept a big check, this time at the Health 2.0 Fall Conference.