In 2012, Tom Chamberlain, PharmD, founded EdLogics, our gamified health education platform. Recently he shared how he first got the idea from working with patients, and the results so far.
Right. As a PharmD and an entrepreneur, I’ve been involved in starting and growing a number of companies, all of them focused on healthcare education and improving the utilization of healthcare services. My primary objective has always been to improve clinical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs for consumers and payors of healthcare services.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to manage my own patients during my doctor of pharmacy program and residency training. Having firsthand experience treating patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and COPD, I knew the challenges of educating and engaging patients in the self-management of their conditions. Traditional educational strategies such as pamphlets and printouts weren’t effective in teaching patients what they needed to know to improve their conditions.
For people with diabetes, testing blood sugar is a routine part of managing their condition. If you’re injecting insulin or using a pump, you may have to test several times a day. Without accurate blood sugar tests, you might not get the right amount of insulin at the right times.
If you can’t measure your blood sugar, you can’t control it. And if you can’t control your blood sugar, you raise your risk of amputations, heart attacks, blindness, erectile dysfunction, and many other problems. One immediate risk is diabetic ketoacidosis, which comes on quickly and can be fatal. Even if you survive, your ER trip will cost thousands of dollars. And it all can be avoided with appropriate education.
Many patients seem to understand how to check their blood sugar once someone shows them. But it was clear to me that most of my patients had forgotten what they’d learned by their next visit. They still weren’t retaining the information needed to manage their diabetes.
This happened over and over again – and similar scenarios occurred with a number of patients with various chronic conditions. I realized we’d never be able to help our patients if we couldn’t find a better way to teach them what to do.
Yes, but a lot of people aren’t familiar with the term. Here’s one definition:
“Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”
Or to put it more simply:
“Health literacy means you can find and understand the information you need to make good decisions about your health.”
Low health literacy is now recognized as a critical barrier to effective and efficient healthcare. It’s an enormous problem, and the consequences are far-reaching. For instance, did you know that compared to patients with adequate health literacy, patients with low health literacy have:
In fact, the cost of low health literacy in the US is somewhere between $106 billion and $238 billion per year. It’s unreal!
If we want to improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs, we need a way to reach consumers – a way that works for them long term.
Since I started working in the healthcare industry, the concept of health literacy has matured into an academic discipline. Institutions like Vanderbilt University have devoted teams of talented experts and researchers—like Russell Rothman, MD, MPP, arguably one of the top health literacy experts in the world—to help healthcare providers, employers, payors, and the public understand the implications of low health literacy—and develop effective solutions to address this major healthcare issue.
At EdLogics, we’ve teamed up with many leading academic medical centers and Centers of Excellence (CoE), as well as industry thought leaders like Dr. Rothman and former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Governor Tommy Thompson, to identify specific ways to improve health literacy.
The first step is to make learning fun and engaging. To do this, we employ and work with experienced clinicians, developers, designers, and gamification experts to create stimulating, engaging games that educate users on important health topics, from diabetes to the Zika virus, all developed with the low health literate user in mind.
To keep users coming back, we’ve developed innovative gamification and unique incentive strategies where users earn rewards by playing games and completing educational activities.
Employers can purchase a customized version of the platform, enabling employees and their families to play, learn, and win. And the cost is minimal: roughly $20 a year per family.
I’m very proud of our platform. It’s a product that educates consumers about chronic diseases, common medical conditions, general health, well-being, medications, and how to navigate the healthcare system. We’ve heard inspiring testimonials from employers and employees, and we have impressive statistics on knowledge improvement and consumer engagement. In fact, 100% of users improve their knowledge of a given condition after completing our learning activities, and 79% of users say they will change their behavior based on what they learned.
We’re continuously making enhancements, all with a focus on improving consumer engagement. That’s the key to being able to influence positive behavior change and deliver the most important, lifesaving knowledge. Not to mention the opportunity to reduce pain and suffering – both physical and financial.
A version of this article was originally published on2/22/2017.
ou can’t control many of the factors that contribute to high healthcare costs: expensive drugs, the cost of providers, rising insurance premiums. So, what can you do?
Improve health literacy, the ability to understand and act on health information.
Watch health literacy expert Russell Rothman, MD, MPP of Vanderbilt University and gamification guru Brian Primack, MD, PhD, then of the University of Pittsburgh (now at University of Oregon), outline problems with existing health education programs and describe real-life solutions.
Watch the entire webinar recording below.
Here's the skinny:
EdLogics wants to improve low health literacy through education.
It’s not about avoiding medical care. It’s about getting the right care at the right time.
We want to empower people to make real changes in their day-to-day habits, so they can stay healthy and keep their families healthy, too.
We want to educate people to prevent sickness before it starts, to show them what to do and where to get care when they do get sick, and help them become well-informed, proactive healthcare consumers.
Ultimately, EdLogics wants to improve health outcomes, reduce the number of claims, and lower costs. For everyone.
“In the US, 1 in 3 Americans can’t follow directions on a drug label. And I have to say, even with a medical degree, I sometimes get a prescription for one of my kids or something and I have to look at it pretty carefully with that small print and the code that it’s in. So it’s not surprising that it’s a challenge for many different people.”
“When someone, for example, just has an ankle sprain — if they can access and follow good information that they have — then they very well might be the kind of person who will say, ‘You know, I don’t need to go the emergency room. I can wait.’
A couple days later, they’ve already improved with ice, elevation and rest — all things that are free.
Whereas another person who is having more difficulty understanding or accessing information might decide to go to the ER for the same condition, and the second they get through the ER door, already they’ve racked up very high costs. They’ve put themselves at risk for getting some kind of a hospital-acquired infection or some additional problem.
Even though this is one small example, when we start quoting issues like ‘90 million Americans have poor health literacy, and this costs an extra $150-200 a year,’ you can see how these numbers add up.”
Knowing what to do to prevent chronic disease, how to take medications, and where to go when you’re sick — and acting on that knowledge — can have a huge impact on both personal health and the number of costly healthcare claims.
✅ Improved knowledge of health issues
✅ Improved behaviors
✅ Improved outcomes for:
“Even after you take into account a patient’s education level, their income, their insurance, and a host of other factors, we find that their literacy level is an independent predictor of how they do with their health.”
Of course, health education programs trying to raise people’s health literacy already exist.
But are they actually making a difference?
Pamphlets: Often don’t make it from the doctor’s office to the car.
Health websites: Too high-literacy, not personalized, and not always trustworthy.
Doctor visits: Patients may misunderstand, forget instructions, or feel too embarrassed to ask questions.
“And, unfortunately — and I say this as a primary care physician [laughing] — but there’s also a lot of variation in how well doctors communicate with their patients and their families. If you ask most clinicians we would, of course, tell you that we’re excellent communicators, and our patients all nod their heads and seem to understand everything that we say to them. … Some studies suggest patients only recall about 20% of what’s said to them by the time they get home.
So we like to think we’re all good communicators as clinicians, but a lot of us struggle — using a lot of jargon that might be hard for patients to understand, maybe speaking at too high of a literacy level without enough plain language, and giving people too much information to try to take in during one single visit. We often don’t assess patient understanding before they leave.”
Poorly designed games: Many focus on the wrong goal.
“So there would be hamburgers and pieces of pizza, and you are supposed to shoot those, but the salad you are supposed to let live. You can probably imagine the next step, which was that they studied this and they found that being exposed to this game and playing this game a lot didn’t actually make people change their diet in any way.
It’s just a caution that even though sometimes gamification is really valuable, if the game is poorly designed, that’s just not a magic quick fix.”
It’s one thing to learn more health facts. It’s another thing to change your daily habits — the one thing that has more of an effect on health than any other single factor.
“The question is: Can we take principles of gamification and game based learning — the interactivity, the unique incentives — and can we use that to leverage for positive change? And what we have found is that, especially in the area of health literacy, there is a lot that we can do.”
“What we really need to think about more is how to link people to other social support mechanisms to help them with their health. We have lots of studies now that really demonstrate that patients who have strong social support do much better with their health. There’s actually an epidemic of loneliness going on in a lot of countries.
And even when people are with their family, they may not have social support for disease that they’re dealing with.
So it can be really helpful to help a patient or employee and their family link to community resources — maybe to disease-specific organizations if they have a certain disease, or to a community organization that provides peer support. Or we can help them gain access to exercise or healthy food. Even to help them with getting additional support from their own family.”
“Health literacy is a major problem in the United States. We have at least 90 million Americans with only basic or below basic literacy skills. Even patients with good literacy skills can struggle to navigate what’s become a very complex healthcare system when trying to take care of their health or the health of their family.
We have found that by addressing health literacy issues, we can improve care for patients with low literacy. Studies have suggested that using good forms of health communication and addressing health literacy can even improve knowledge and behavior for people with high health literacy. So improving how we educate and communicate can be of great value to everyone.”
“There are so many challenges here. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have 90 million Americans with low health literacy. But I think that it’s important to end on a positive note and say that we really are moving the needle. There have been studies that show that using the kind of principles that we talked about today really do help and change people’s lives. I think that that is what we need to hold up as we move forward.”
A version of this article was first published 10/12/2018.
EdLogics and Global Action Platform recently hosted a conference focused on the economic benefits of improving health literacy in communities.
The event, held November 5 in Norfolk, Virginia, highlighted the specific needs and benefits to the Hampton Roads and Nashville areas.
EdLogics Founder and CEO Thomas M. Chamberlain, PharmD, opened the event by sharing the economic impact of low health literacy.
“Low health literacy is a multibillion-dollar problem,” he said. “Patients with low health literacy are more likely to visit an emergency room, less likely to follow a doctor’s instructions, and have higher mortality rates.”
Patients with low health literacy are more likely to visit an emergency room, less likely to follow a doctor’s instructions, and have higher mortality rates.
To address this crisis, Global Action Platform and EdLogics are creating Empower Community Health, an initiative utilizing technology to improve health literacy. This platform, through which communities can connect health and prosperity, will in turn create a competitive economic advantage for their regions in the ongoing competition for investments, talent and markets.
The EdLogics Platform will serve as the technological backbone of Empower Community Health. The Platform features:
“The Platform is proven, easy-to-use, and can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, making it readily accessible to anyone with access to the internet,” added presenter James Spore, President and CEO of Reinvent Hampton Roads.
Through Empower Community Health, the EdLogics Platform will be available to the citizens of Hampton Roads and Nashville, including underserved populations, the public school system, and university students. EdLogics and Global Action Platform will work with schools, libraries, community health clinics, churches, YMCAs and other civic organizations to provide access.
The comprehensive community implementation has many innovative and important features, including:
At the community level, Global Action Platform will provide regional program managers to work with sponsors, community organizations, and other stakeholders to leverage local resources, networks, and existing programs to drive awareness. Local universities will serve as strategic outreach partners and provide academic research expertise.
A version of this article was originally published 11/29/2018.
There’s no end in sight.
Total costs of providing medical and pharmacy benefits are expected to rise 5%, according to an annual survey by the National Business Group on Health.
That means employers at big companies can expect to pay around $15,000 per worker in the coming year. Blame it on costly claims, specialty medications, and certain diseases, say many employers.
Health literacy — the ability to understand and act on health information — plays a role, too. According to a University of Connecticut study, low health literacy costs the US healthcare system about $238 billion a year.
Simply put, when people don’t have the knowledge they need to make good decisions about their health, they make poorer decisions — choices that lead to poorer health and higher costs.
Consider these scenarios:
In each scenario, improving health literacy could mean better health for less money. Studies show that people with low health literacy tend to have more health claims, more hospital stays, more trips to the ER, less compliance with treatment plans, and higher death rates.
In contrast, people with high health literacy tend to have fewer health claims, fewer needs for special services, more compliance with medication and treatment plans, and better health overall.
People with high health literacy tend to have fewer health claims, fewer needs for special services, more compliance with medication and treatment plans, and better health overall.
Improving health literacy isn’t easy. “There’s no quick fix,” said EdLogics advisor Brian Primack, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Research, Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, in a recent EdLogics webinar. Still, Dr. Primack added, “We are moving the needle.”
If you’re an employer, a human resources manager, or other business leader who’s committed to finding ways to improve health literacy in your organization, these resources can help:
Use the CDC’s workbook, sample action plan, and links to government sites to create your organization’s health literacy plan. Includes state and county estimates of low literacy.
You know your company needs a health literacy program, but you’re not sure where to start? This guide will walk you through the basics, including best practices and simple, concrete tips for writing and designing good content.
The first rule in developing health content for low-literacy users: Avoid doctor-speak. This simple tool shows you how, with an index of commonly used medical terms and their plain-language alternatives.
Health literacy expert Russell Rothman, MD, MPP, of Vanderbilt University and gamification expert Brian Primack, MD, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh share an overview of what makes health literacy programs effective.
EdLogics’ gamified learning platform combines engaging, personalized content and activities with unique incentives to help users improve their health literacy. Want a demo? Contact us!
A version of this article was originally published 10/25/2018.
ecently, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, issued some harsh criticism of social networks in an interview on Axios.
He claims they work to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology” and that those networks will eventually “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” He claims the networks do this by creating a system to generate addictive loops that “sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.”
It's very powerful and used by all of the major social media sites which continue to grow and consume our time and attention.
But what if we could take those same techniques Facebook used to grow to over 2 billion active users a month and applied them to something positive, like health education?
Recently, Tom Chamberlain, PharmD, CEO and Founder of EdLogics, gave a presentation to the Global Action Summit on the gamification of health. In his presentation, Dr. Chamberlain described various types of gaming technologies, such as video games, mobile apps, virtual reality, augmented reality, and interactive learning, and how they are being used in the medical field.
Chamberlain went on to discuss the key principles of gamification, including instant rewards, milestones, status, and competition. He described how a “little dopamine hit” is generated through playing these games and through the use of gamification technologies.
Driving engagement and facilitating behavior changes are the “holy grails” of health improvement programs. If we can get individuals, employees, plan members, and/or communities more engaged in understanding and acting on their own health, we can see vast improvements in a population’s health and lowered costs. This is why applying gamification principles to health education is so exciting.
Low health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes and higher costs. It’s pretty clear that if a person does not understand their health, their health issues, the healthcare system, or their health insurance, they won’t be able to maintain or improve their health, select the right provider, adhere to treatment, and more.
These approaches are not just fun and games when it comes to health — they are using real science in an effort to drive behavior change and improve one’s life.
If you’d like more information on the EdLogics platform for your employees, health plan or as a broker/consultant, please contact us.
A version of this article was originally published 11/11/2017.
Mr. Garcia is a 65-year-old man with prediabetes.
He’s just retired and moved to a new area. At his first visit with his new primary care doctor, a nurse asks if he can usually understand a doctor’s instructions.
“Absolutely,” he says. “I understand perfectly.”
But does he really?
Situations like this highlight the importance of measuring two kinds of health literacy — how much a patient thinks they know compared to how much they actually know. If doctors measure just one kind of health literacy, they may not realize how much a patient understands and how well they can follow basic health advice..
Better understanding might allow Mr. Garcia to act sooner. He might get treatment or make healthier choices — and avoid diabetes. Smart changes now could mean avoiding the pain and expense of a chronic health problem later.
That’s why, when possible, it’s best to measure both subjective and objective health literacy.
Subjective health literacy measures how health literate someone thinks they are.
You can gauge subjective health literacy with questions like:
“How confident are you in filling out medical forms by yourself?”
The nurse in the story above was measuring subjective health literacy, albeit informally. The questions don’t have objectively correct answers, which may feel less threatening to the patient. It doesn’t feel like a test you’d take in school.
But there are disadvantages too. People often overestimate their own ability. And they may tell you what they think you want to hear. In other words, they may report strong health literacy even if they rarely understand or act on what a doctor tells them.
A patient has to actually demonstrate factual knowledge to measure objective health literacy. One popular tool, The Newest Vital Sign, shows the patient a nutrition label and asks how many calories they’d get by eating multiple servings, as well as other basic questions.
With objective health literacy, you know patients aren’t overestimating their own ability, or telling you what they think you want to hear. But because there are right and wrong answers, some patients feel like they’re back in school, and the memories aren’t always pleasant.
EdLogics measures — and strives to cultivate — improvements in both kinds of health literacy.
We use only validated surveys. When we measure objective health literacy, we present questions a little differently, making them fun, adding graphics, and incorporating great design. It’s all gamified and has fun incentives to encourage continued engagement. You can even win cash drawings, where the more you play, the more likely you are to win.
Users do not feel like they’re back in school.
By measuring both types of health literacy, we put ourselves in the best position to understand how health literacy changes over time. This can help us further refine our suite of health literacy education games, and be even more effective in our mission to improve health literacy.
A version of this article was originally published 7/6/2017.
ospital emergency departments, as the name implies, are meant to be used for true emergencies.
Unfortunately many trips to the ER are not life-threatening. Many are, in fact, both unnecessary and avoidable.
A study published in 2013 found that:
Low health literacy leads many patients to the ER when they could have received care at a less expensive setting – like at their doctor’s office or at a walk-in clinic. It’s also known that patients with low health literacy are more likely to make return visits to ERs within two weeks.
Some barriers for patients with low literacy include:
More recent research, presented at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Annual Meeting in Orlando, explored how low health literacy was related to preventable ER visits. The study looked at over 1,200 participants and a total of 4,444 ER visits. Over 10% of the visits were found to have been preventable.
Of the preventable visits, over 60% led to hospital admission. The average cost of a hospital stay is estimated to be close to $10,000.
When researchers looked at the health literacy of the participants, those with lower health literacy were over twice as likely to have made a preventable ER visit. Having below an eighth-grade reading level was the definition used for low literacy.
The most common preventable conditions leading to ER visits included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), urinary tract infections and long-term complications from diabetes.
While not surprising, the study illustrates that patients with low literacy are more likely to make preventable visits to ER and other emergency services. And increasing the literacy of patients can help dramatically decrease unnecessary healthcare costs.
A version of this article was originally publshed 10/09/2017.
doctor prescribes an antibiotic for a toddler’s first ear infection. Eager to help their daughter, the girl’s parents pick up the medicine on their way home. Frantically, they open the bottle and start to pour the thick pink liquid into the crying child’s ear.
The problem: It should have gone in her mouth.
This story is a classic in the health literacy community. While obvious errors like this aren’t the norm, millions of patients do make dangerous healthcare mistakes every year.
That means they have trouble finding, understanding, and using health information to make informed decisions about their health.
You can’t blame them. Even though most healthcare professionals are committed to educating their patients — including those with limited health literacy — we don’t always do a great job of it.
Here’s one example:
In a 2009 New England Journal article, Ruth Parker tells the story of two parents—one of whom was a physician—who struggled to understand the instructions for their child’s flu medication. The directions were so unclear that the physician had to solve a complex equation to figure out the right dose.
It’s not surprising that millions of patients with limited health literacy can’t interpret medication labels correctly, or use other health information to help prevent and manage disease.
These health literacy issues have been linked to serious health consequences. Adults with limited health literacy get fewer mammograms and flu shots. They have more ER visits and hospitalizations. They cost much more to the healthcare system. And they don’t understand their health conditions as well as people who are health literate.
Health literacy should matter to you if:
1. You have a chronic condition. If you or a loved one has a chronic condition, you know there’s a lot to learn. You need to use health information to help manage conditions like diabetes, heart disease, COPD, and many others.
2. You’re a parent. Once you become a mom or dad, you’ll need to use health information to learn how to care for your child.
3. You can’t get health insurance. Patients with limited health literacy cost more, so insurers pay more. That drives up premiums, which can quickly become unaffordable.
4. You have insurance. If you pay health insurance premiums, the price is based on the cost of caring for a large group of people. The extra costs linked to limited health literacy mean the group’s costs go up. That means you pay more in premiums.
5. You’ll someday die. Every mortal adult should have advance directives. These documents list the treatments you would or wouldn’t want if you got too sick to share your wishes. They also let you name someone to make medical decisions for you if you get too sick to communicate. To understand advance directives, you need to understand some basic health information.
If you’re not in any of these groups, stop reading.
If you do fall into one of these categories, you need to educate yourself on health literacy — and learn how to become more health literate. This blog is a good place to start. We’ll help you learn what you need to know about health literacy.
A version of this article was originally published 2/27/2017.