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September 7, 2016 Startup CEOs and Investors 8 Comments

Why Pokemon Go is More Important to the Future of Healthcare Than Your EMR
By Bruce Brandes (with Charlie Martin)

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Over a year ago, I completed an HIStalk blog series entitled “All I Needed to Know to Disrupt Healthcare, I Learned from Seinfeld.” Now we have a new pop culture phenomenon from which our industry has much to learn.

At a recent conference, keynote speaker and legendary healthcare services entrepreneur Charlie Martin made the following proclamation to a ballroom full of healthcare IT leaders: “Pokemon Go has more to do with the future of healthcare than your EMR.” 


I’m pleased to collaborate with Charlie through this column to illuminate how a free gaming app will have more of an impact than the billions of dollars spent on an array of electronic medical record systems over the past couple of decades.

Who Cares About Your EMR?


When you are at home, do you celebrate your plumbing or electricity? Were the type of pipes or wires used in the house a factor in your decision to buy your house? Certainly being able to have light at the flip of a switch and taking a shower are foundational requirements in any home, expected to always work and not be the cause of problems. 

Similarly, the EMR is not a reason a patient selects a hospital or physician. Patients assume and expect you to give them the right drugs, monitor their lab tests, and perform clinical procedures according to best practices. Please keep your Epic go-live parties (and the disproportionate financial investment you’ve made) in perspective. 

Moreover, not only does a patient not care about which EMR you use, here’s another potentially shocking revelation. Apart from delivering a baby, no person ever really wants to be a patient in a hospital. The healthcare system of the future aligns incentives and engages people to be healthy and avoid the hospital if at all possible. 

That is where Pokemon Go becomes more meaningful than your EMR. As our industry clamors to advance initiatives such as population health, consumer engagement, and virtual care to move from a sick-care system to a health-care system, there is much to learn from the example set by Pokemon Go. 

What Pokemon Go Has Done in 30 Days that EMRs Couldn’t Do in 30 Years

  • Attracts 21 million users and 4-5 million new downloads a day.
  • Users spend an average of 45 minutes per day finding Pokemon (and get exercise by walking or running as a byproduct).
  • Seven of 10 users who download the app return the next day.
  • With a free application, Pokemon Go has generated $1.6 million in revenue per day.

Key Takeaways from Pokemon Go for Healthcare

Gamification and augmented reality drive real “meaningful use.” If Pokemon Go can get people moving worldwide in 30 days, just think about how we can extrapolate the platform from here. We are exponentially expanding the number of people who are exercising without realizing they are exercising. How can this concept be applied to drive healthier eating, medication compliance, and preventative screenings?

  • No boundaries. Virtually every individual carries a powerful computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone. Pokemon Go meets people where they are — in their home or office, on their schedule, and at their convenience.
  • So simple your kid or your grandma can use it. No friction to drive viral use. No cost (freemium model to revenue). Very obvious to understand how to download and use. No implementation or training required. 
  • Free. In order to get rapid adoption, do not create friction by charging users to engage. In addition to Pokemon Go, few people would have ever used applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. had there been a cost to participate. That said, these companies have figured out how to subsequently monetize from third parties that derive benefit from the resulting widespread engagement of millions, without infringing on the value and trust experienced by all those free users.

There is a new wave of healthcare innovations which strive to incorporate the principles above into their new solutions. 

Among them, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Apple has set their sights squarely on impacting the healthcare industry. Healthcare has taken note of Silicon Valley’s track record of creating new businesses which have put many entrenched institutions out of business. Apple clearly appreciates the foundational value of the electronic medical record, but sees it as a commoditized base from which real value will be created. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently commented regarding its healthcare aspirations:

We’ve gotten into the health arena. We started looking at wellness. That took us to pulling a string to thinking about research. Pulling that string a little further took us to some patient care stuff. That pulled a string that’s taking us into some other stuff. When you look at most of the solutions — whether it’s devices or things coming up out of big pharma — first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement, not thinking about what helps the patient. If you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.

What might he be referencing regarding thinking about what helps the patient?

Lead an active lifestyle. Eat natural, whole foods. Rest. Care for those in your community. These are many of the basic principles on which people have lived since the beginning to time, at least until recently. Proven choices that lead to health, enhanced and exacted by an explosion of promising digital health solutions, are perhaps our path back to the future of healthcare. 

Established healthcare organizations – providers, vendors and supportive third parties alike — need to think differently, collaborate in new ways, and be a meaningful part of embracing and accelerating innovation. Pokemon Go represents a step (or 10,000 steps per day) in the right direction.

Bruce Brandes is founder and CEO of Lucro. Charlie Martin is chairman of Martin Ventures

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Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Area Man, you’re missing the point. Consumers and younger generations especially are focusing on preventative medicine – looking for ways to stay healthy and prevent illness altogether. At this point in my life, I have to take off half a day of work to spend 5 minutes with a doctor I haven’t ever seen (in an office of 10 doctors), and they usually write a prescription, and absolutely do not suggest holistic or natural remedies, because they don’t receive monetary incentives for that. Technology is becoming more integrated into our daily lives – Every day at meals I scan barcodes of what I eat, excercise with my phone, record my mood (this takes about 5 minutes a day) and I can see trends over time how it is affecting my body and mind. Gamification pushes me to set health goals and reach them. Luckily some practices and EMR systems understand this digital transition with easy to access patient portals to schedule appointments during lunch and after hours, automated prescription refills, etc. I’m moving from my current primary care provider to a concierge model. I pay a flat rate per year, and have guaranteed access to preventative screenings, physicals, and I actually get to spend more than 5 minutes with a doctor. My doctor won’t have to worry about receiving appropriate compensation from the insurance carrier, and I will experience quality healthcare again. Looking forward to the future of healthcare with the big technology players getting involved and offering solutions.

  2. I don’t think effective outreach, patient engagement, and preventative care are mutually exclusive vis a via an effective in-clinic/hospital EMR. How does Pokemon Go factor in to the equation? Make engaging apps, hospitals/ACOs/EMRs? Be inspired by Niantic?

  3. Area man – good point about Pokemon Go being a fad – I completely agree. I also agree the EMR is an essential foundational component of healthcare. While there are specific illustrations to be brought forward from the Pokemon Go phenomenon, the lessons are more metaphorical and broadly applicable than intended to really be specific and literal regarding Pokemon Go itself as a healthcare tool. I appreciate the discussion!

  4. EMR use is only driven by bean-counters (whether directly to see where they’re making/losing money, how they can make more money, or indirectly because the gov’t will make them lose money). Any other benefit is only incidental. Why is this never part of the discussion? I find it strange that everyone keeps pretending that the main drive for EMR is to make the patient’s life better or the doctor’s life easier. EMR would happen no matter what. There is no way to track all the money coming in in near-real time and make executive decisions on the fly that affect revenue unless you do all this tracking electronically. Paper is not an option. You can’t squeeze money/employees and increase profit (even of a non-profit hospital) without an EMR. All the other EMR features are there to make the bean-counting more palatable.

  5. Thanks for the great article. Unfortunately, suffocating government regulation gets in the way of health care providers innovating for “free” products. Case in point, look at the cost of HIPAA violations to Practice Fusion. Their “free” EHR will be a struggle to stay that way if they have to keep paying out fines. Luckily, Practice Fusion is still free (despite the dismay of their competitors). Pokemon Go had a security issue early on where they had access to all their users e-mail accounts (http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2016/07/12/pokemon-go-has-access-to-your-entire-google-account.aspx). If they would have had to pay government fines, it would have adversely impacted their financials.

    At some level too much protection is no protection. Here in Texas a surgeon with a clear drug problem was allowed (including a letter of reference from the Hospital that was aware of the issue) to continue operating and went on to kill another patient after badly maiming several others (including one death) at a different hospital. The Texas Medical board ignored complaints about said Doctor. The result after this horrible tragedy. The system is STILL exactly the same! The regulatory system isn’t really protecting us, but is lining special interest pockets with absurd prices (think epi-pen) and charges. I wish it was lining Doctor’s pockets because many Doctor’s I know would use that money for the betterment of us all.

    Almost nothing in health care today meets the 3 takeaways you suggest. Take a look at the documents with a simple prescription medication or the paperwork you sign ON THE WAY in the door. Even requirements for Meaningful Use such as a patient portal are far more complex than that. I dare you to ask how a patient portal works for a teenage girl that’s 16 years old and what would be available in it for her and you as a parent. The front desk person wouldn’t be able to begin to explain it and it would probably require an hour or more of explanation as to how it works. I’d like to see us go back to allowing a Dr to judge “do no harm” and accept that their are inherent risks (including privacy) with receiving and giving medical care. Too much protection is no protection.

  6. Sounds like AC has his scrubs in a bunch, but it’s sad to say but this cynical and shortsighted opinion is not isolated. I don’t think EMR would happen no matter what. Healthcare is, unfortunately, a slow changing system and technology adoption is not always a given. How many pagers do you still see?

    In order to make a significant change to process, the first thing needed is data. You were correct when you said you can’t get that from paper. You can’t see how many people are in for what, what your busiest times in the ED are, how effective one treatment is versus another. How many doctors still say “I order this because that’s how I learned it” or “it’s what I always do”, even if there is evidence that it doesn’t produce a better outcome.

    The government program did what it was supposed to do. It pushed people to produce electronic records and generate searchable, mineable data. You can argue that the vendors haven’t kept up with usability standards, modern design practices, or interoperability, but that’s a different discussion. We have data now, and it’s up to use to use it.

    In regards to Pokémon Go, it’s essentially the world’s most successful pedometer. It initially soared due to nostalgia and a relatively new use of AR for gameplay. It has additional teaching points for the EHR market, in that the company has poor communication, chose scale over user satisfaction, and, basically, if you take your customers for granted, they will leave.

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