Journalist Dan Weissmann said, “If you were to design a health system that did the worst job of serving people and immiserates people the most, you'd have a hard time coming up with something that was more effective than what we've got.”1
How bad is it? According to the Commonwealth Fund, the US ranks dead last among developed nations on health outcomes; last on access to care; last on administrative efficiency; and last on health equity.2
Yet the system is phenomenally expensive and the trickle-down effect is disastrous. According the American Journal of Public Health, healthcare is by far the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.3
Other innovators are rethinking our teetering health system.4 Not us. We empower people to manage the determinants of their health by boosting their constructive health competenceTM and medical self-efficacy.TM
Our health system may be broken beyond compare or repair, yet its most under-utilized, under-performing human capital is not providers, payers, or the supply chain. It’s the embattled patients.5 Humaginarium has their back.
The business idea of Humaginarium emerged in Atlanta in 2011. We found unmet needs in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Could we inform them about a painful chronic condition in ways that promote fortitude and resilience, and engage them in the pursuit of patient-centered outcomes?
All ways considered, the best by far was with video games.1 The idea sparked excitement but not deep innovation until 2016, when Humaginarium LLC formed in Chicago. We committed to critical inquiry and ideation at business incubators: the Polsky Exchange at the University of Chicago, Midwest and National Nodes of NSF I-Corps, and the MATTER Healthcare Incubator.
Several professionals joined up for brief stints; dozens of mentors advised us; hundreds of stakeholders refined our product-market fit. In 2020, we wrote our first SBIR Phase 1 grant; two the next year; and in 2022, we initiated a capital campaign.
Our nimble startup employs five senior personnel. The mission remains the same after ten years, but wider now in scope. We make video games that increase personal control over determinants of all chronic illness, and we enlist players in a fight for patient-centered outcomes.
Humaginarium is a STEAM company that blends science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics in a health solution. We are practitioners of system dynamics, a computational approach to modeling nonlinear behavior of complex systems over time.1
The systems we model are determinants of health i.e. the risks, causes and consequences of disease.2 We construct rich, mathematical models with Vensim software.3 Our models power high-fidelity simulations that reframe illness as a curious puzzle that may be seized and solved by patients and other folks.4
The simulations are mediated by virtual physicians, who embody myriad human factors in our use-case scenarios.5 Scenarios are drawn from our evidence-based patient journey maps.6
Simulation scenarios can edify, but they cannot engage the people we are most committed to helping: the untutored and unmotivated who own the lion’s charge of health disparities and inequities.7 For them we create video games that render scientific simulations as adventures, role-plays, and mind-bending puzzles.8
Our commerical products are models, simulations, and games. Each may be used discretely; together, they may improve the lives of millions.9
Humaginarium supersedes traditional ways of promoting health in order to create greater value and better results for more people. For example…
These innovations may transform healthcare, health education, and health promotion10— and increase the size and scope of the video game industry11 — and enhance the happiness and health of millions of chronically ill people across the United States.
The scientific content of our health/care simulations is the determinants of health for people facing serious chronic disease. That’s well over half the US population.1
Determinants of health are causes and drivers of morbidity. We simulate them to help people:
We categorize determinants of health as somatic (physiological and biochemical), psychosomatic (cognitive, emotional), social (behavioral, cultural), environmental (natural, built), and institutional (clinical structures and processes).
The determinants in our dynamic models and simulations are evidence-based. We give them reductionistic and imaginative treatment to make them accessible to everybody, but they remain scientific and true to life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say health promotion is a process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health.1
We see health promotion as a call for patient empowerment, though others may believe it’s a way to improve healthcare.2 To us, the US health system is ineffective and unlikely to change until its financial incentives change; that is, not soon.3 Therefore we choose to invest now in patients, rather than institutions, for meaningful and practical results that they urgently need.
Unlike lazy styles of health promotion, we view empowerment as a cognitive more than a behavioral intervention.4 People will not be able to control and improve their health unless they first understand what drives it, and what they can deliberately do about it. Ground zero for empowerment is learning, not nudging.5
We know about resistance to learning that is too strong to overcome.6 So we turn to art and entertainment, rather than argument, to weaken resistance. We promote health by giving people what they want — fabulous entertainment — then what they need. We build constructive health competence, we don’t trigger conditioned responses.