Patient noncompliance with prescribed medication or recommended health plans threatens recovery and health improvement programs all too often. According to a Johns Hopkins University study of adherence and health care costs, between 25% and 50% of patients do not adhere to medication prescription directions. The annual cost of medication nonadherence results in hundreds of billions of dollars in extra healthcare costs every year. Employers, health organizations and others experience similar high noncompliance rates. Even with employer-paid incentives for improving their health, many employees don’t stick with healthy regimens.

SidekickHealth, founded by Harvard and MIT guest lecturer Tryggvi Thorgiersson, uses gamification to frame wellness programs as fun ways for employees to improve their health. According to the company, SidekickHealth platform participants have 30% lower dropout rates and are three times more likely to reach 5% weight-loss goals. As a result, the system can significantly reduce costs and increase value-based reimbursements. Focused on promoting health and tackling chronic diseases, SidekickHealth combines behavioral economics with gaming technology and artificial intelligence drawing on brain research from Harvard University and MIT. Employee participants are coached and motivated by cartoon-like Sidekick figures in various costumes; they look remotely like Teenage Ninja Turtles. The Sidekicks present diet upgrade programs with rewards for fruit, vegetable, and water consumption. Fitness programs include a variety exercises, workouts, and activities. Stress reduction activities include breathing exercises, mindful body relaxation, and guided meditation. Success reports include averages of eight health-improving exercises daily, 49 minutes weekly in active relaxation exercises, and a 77% reduction in the frequency of sugar consumption.

Dwindling health due to poor patient compliance despite knowledge and guidance extracts high financial and public health costs. If gamification is an effective answer, bring on the turtles. File this one under “If it works, use it.”