Health IT

Health IT startup shows what’s missing from patient surveys: fun (video)

A health IT startup has developed a patient survey and intake platform for physician practices that attempts to inject a sense of fun into the tedious process of filling out forms. By including a gaming component in the platform, Tonic Health founder and CEO Sterling Lanier hopes it will stimulate interest, engage patients and make […]

A health IT startup has developed a patient survey and intake platform for physician practices that attempts to inject a sense of fun into the tedious process of filling out forms.

By including a gaming component in the platform, Tonic Health founder and CEO Sterling Lanier hopes it will stimulate interest, engage patients and make them inclined to provide more detailed and accurate information.

Patient engagement has been a popular topic in the healthcare industry. The thinking is that if patients are more engaged, they will take more of an interest in their health, in understanding their condition, particularly for chronic conditions, and follow the advice of healthcare professionals.

“What we found is the way to create patient engagement in a data collection setting is to pair graphics with rolling effects,” Lanier said. The result is patients want to see what will come next. Each time the next question appears, he said, they see it as something new and fun.

Here’s how it works: A physician practice uses the San Francisco-based company’s software to build its survey. It deploys it to iPads and gives it to patients. Lanier said it’s working on a version where clients can provide the survey to patients who would be accessible on any browser. The completed survey information is sent in a HIPAA-compliant format to the patient’s electronic health record. It’s available as an iPad app that can be downloaded by healthcare professionals from the iTunes store.

The patient surveys can also include risk models and algorithms that a practice might use to determine whether the patient is at risk for a particular condition.

The gamification framework for these surveys is geared toward people who infrequently use computers. For example, one question asks for the user’s social security information. But instead of just a one-line question, it adds the frame of a Social Security card and users type the number in the space provided. Pop-ups offering help appear on the screen if the patient lingers on a particular question. Lanier notes that in some cases, users might be more familiar with the appearance of the card so an image of a Social Security card flashes on the screen. At the end of the survey, it asks users to play a game in which they direct the survey back to the healthcare professional’s desk in the office.

It currently has three pilot programs at institutions like the Mayo Clinic; Kaiser Permanente; University of California, San Francisco; and Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

In the pilot programs at Georgetown and at University of California, San Francisco, the providers are using the risk model to calculate women’s estimated risk of developing breast cancer based on the information participants provide. Depending on the information, they might be added to a list for patients at high risk for the condition. One group is evaluating it for autism screening.

Currently, the company employs 19 people, many of whom are engineers and designers. It hopes to add 11 more next year, mainly in sales.