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Watch Out for Gamification

January 14, 2013
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Can entrepreneurs, healthcare providers, payers, app developers, and other stakeholders figure out a way to turn people’s obsession with simplistic smartphone games like Angry Birds into the next health enterprise? If they can, I think you’ll be seeing it in a lot more places.

Of course, gamification is already an emerging strategy for helping people lose weight, gain muscle, or achieve some other fitness-related goal. Apps like Fitocracy, which gives you points and assigns you quests based on exercise routines, have gained popularity from people across the globe. But can gamification in healthcare go beyond this niche and be a real game-changer? Can providers use it to improve their quality measures, get patients more engaged, or educate a new generation of practitioners?

That’s what I wonder, and I think the answer is yes.

There are a lot of possibilities and I’m not the only who sees potential in healthcare-related gamification. In December, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced a $200,000 challenge for developers to create game applications that help generate “useful” healthcare quality data. As David Raths blogged about in October, leaders at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have brought together 15 different groups of medical students and faculty to create various games that healthcare providers can use to improve quality measures and lower readmission rates.

I’d be interested to see more providers and payers take a cue from companies like United Healthcare (Minneapolis) and Humana (Chicago), which has taken gamification to a new level by incentivizing patients to manage their diabetes treatment and lose weight, among other things. See this excellent Wall St. Journal article for more on this.

There’s also medical education, an area which certainly could be used for gamification. A recent study from leading researchers in Sweden and the U.S. looked at gamification when it comes to teaching young people. The study, which appeared in an issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), found that high school students that play video game or multiplayer virtual worlds (MMVW) of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training are more likely and confident to respond to an emergency situation where CPR is needed.

The researchers gave the high school students, both in the U.S. and Sweden, three-to-four scenarios in various settings where CPR might be necessary. The students controlled an avatar through a mouse and a keyboard and were given 90-to-120 minute training sessions. After each session, an instructor gave short feedback about their CPR performance compared to the guidelines.

The high school students were appreciative of the training, and the researchers say their concentration was at near high levels. Overall, the researchers say training students in this game-based environment is “feasible, reliable, and enjoyed” by the students themselves. They say there is “added value of MMVW for situated learning.”

The CPR game created by the Swedish and American researchers

Credit: Creutzfeldt J, Hedman L, Heinrichs L, Youngblood P, Felländer-Tsai Li JMIR

I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that many of us are naturally competitive. We want to get the high score. It’s why you can’t put down Angry Birds. With an outcomes-based environment becoming the norm in this industry, gamification in healthcare seems like perfect marriage in this regard. Instead of killing fake pigs in Angry Birds though, you can perfectly manage your chronic disease or learn a skill that could save someone’s life.  Now, that’s a real high score to brag about!

Already gamification has made an impact for some. Here’s to that trend continuing this year.

Got an example of gamification in healthcare? Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter by following me at @HCI_GPerna