Kaiser talks up monkey game, talks down EMR integration

By: Jonah Comstock | Jul 9, 2013        

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Kaiser Monkey BusinessWhen Kaiser Permanente debuted its Interchange platform API initiative last month, the company made it clear that they would not be feeding patient health information into third party apps or devices via APIs. While the health system has done notable research into incorporating things like exercise data into its EMR, it isn’t interested in integrating just any data stream. Kaiser Permanente’s Lead Innovation Designer Christine Folck recently spoke at the Games For Health conference in Boston, telling a group of developers what Kaiser Permanente is and isn’t looking for in health games and apps. Correction: An earlier version of this article stated inaccurately that Kaiser Permanente wasn’t interested in incorporating any data from apps and devices into its EMR. 

“Don’t come to us telling us you can upload [data] into our electronic medical record,” Folck said. “We don’t necessarily want it there. We have too much information in our electronic medical record. Kaiser Permanente was one of the first to go nationwide with our electronic medical record, we are fully integrated, but the problem is now everybody wants to upload into it. Our physicians don’t want it all there. They really don’t need to know how much exercise each of their patients is getting on a daily basis; they just don’t have time to process all of that.”

Folck also counseled developers against focusing on the the wrong platform for a given audience.

“We need to meet patients where they are at, so designing a game for an elderly patient for their smartphone isn’t going to help us, because they don’t have smartphones right now,” she said. “At least the majority don’t.”

Folck said Kaiser is interested in games that focus on healthcare niches that aren’t currently being addressed. For instance, she said the company has found plenty of good exercise apps and plenty of good nutrition apps, but hasn’t yet found a good app that does both.

As another example, Folck shared a project KP has been working on with software developer Vectorform, called Monkey Business. Monkey Business is an autism assessment tool that uses a Microsoft Kinect and an animated avatar (a monkey, naturally) to engage kids. She said the feedback from preliminary tests with the software has been positive.

The standard tests for autism today are carried out by a therapist who has to ask the child to answer a number of questions and perform actions.

“We find that with the current method, children at that age will not engage because they’re bored, whether they’re autistic or not,” Folck said. However, the monkey, which is controlled by a therapist using a separate controller, made all the difference. It instructs kids to perform the same actions, but in a gamified context. For instance, while the therapist in the traditional test would tell a child to jump, the monkey guides them in a game jumping from lily pad to lily pad.

“Even those that were severely autistic still engaged with the monkey,” she said. “Some of the feedback we got from the parents was that they wished they had the monkey at home to help their child make their bed or do things like that.”

Monkey Business is set to begin large-scale pilots soon, Folck said. She said Monkey Business was a smart game for Kaiser Permanente because it didn’t already exist in the market and it addressed a major pain point for their caregivers — in this case pediatric therapists. Finally, she said, the company is looking for partners with some clinical validation.

“KP always stands by doing medicine that is evidence-based and it’s the same way with our technologies and our games. We want technology and games that are evidence-based,” she said.