Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 08, 2012

'Gamification of Health' and 'Quantified Self Movement '-- Game Changers or Fad?

Hedge funds. Derivatives. Scooping up short sales. Typically, that’s where investors put their money. 

But a prominent venture capitalist is now looking at health-related start-ups and especially at those making gadgets to help people keep track of their health and wellness in what’s being called the “quantified self movement.”

The “quantified self” movement is relatively new and simply means measuring and recording with gadgets what you do, like how far you run and how fast, how much you sleep, and if your blood pressure and heart rate is where it should be, according to Mike Elgan at computerworld.

But what makes it really interesting – and possibly more significant – is that Tim Chang, managing director of Mayfield Fund, a 41-year-old venture capital firm with over $2.8 billion under management, is now exploring the movement, according to a story by Boonsri Dickinson at

Dickinson interviewed Chang on his new interest in the “gamification of health,” eliciting this comment from Chang, “I’m a firm believer that the only way we’ll fix our horribly broken healthcare system is by getting consumers to think about health and not healthcare.”

Chang noted to Dickinson that being healthy isn’t always that much fun “but could be made more engaging and actionable if it’s gamified,” which, in Chang’s mind, includes “measuring daily actions and decisions, providing instant feedback and data back to users, and adding interactivity and game-like mechanics around this data to make health ‘playable’ by users.”

Brian Edwards at mhealth defines “gamification” as applying the basic elements “which make games fun and engaging to things that typically aren’t considered a game, or in other words the use of game play mechanisms for non-game applications,” like healthcare, as Chang believes.

Chang told Dickinson that “you almost need to ‘trick’ the masses into being healthy, and gamiifcation is a great way to do this, as opposed to money-based sticks and carrots that standard healthcare and insurance systems try to use!”

Chang said in the interview that when these gadgets can make the scores “explicit and instantaneous in terms of feedback cycles, and wrapping interactive ‘play’ around these scores, we can hopefully shape and influence consumer behaviors.”

In his article, Elgan reports that Gary Wolf, a speaker at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, said that “such monitoring and detailed numerical data is possible because of the advancement and reduced cost of mobile devices, compute power, data storage and sensors. Social networks enable people to share the data.”

But, computerworld wonders, is it all a fad? Elgan says he’s only seen males in their 20s and 30s really interested in measuring the output of everything they do, and doesn’t believe it’s sustainable or broad enough. “It will be a long time before Silicon Valley invents a set of sensors better than the ones you were born with,” he concludes in the article. 


Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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