Gamification in Healthcare: The Future of Medicine?

The use of gamification has already been recognized in fields such as training, business, psychology and marketing. More recently gamification has been applied to the medical field, which could bring positive results to medicine adherence.

Gamification and Serious Games

Gamification is essentially a set of rules from the world of games, video games in particular, that aim at applying gaming elements to activities that do not normally have anything to do with “game playing”. The rules of gamification create and promote active interest on behalf of users, involving them in the message/practices that have been chosen to communicate. Typical elements of gamification are:

  • points
  • rankings
  • rewards
  • challenges
  • unforeseen events
  • risk factors (by giving the user the possibility to risk their own status in order to gain rewards or more points)

One specific field of gamification is serious games, videogames that are not created for the sole purpose of entertainment, but that use the traditional game techniques listed above and are characterized by a narrative (the learning of a specific concept) that makes the experience even more engaging.

In order for gamification to be effective, it must not only to engage professionals in specific fields however, but other potential users, thus guaranteeing an invaluable educational/training experience that motivates final users to play considering they were already involved in the design phase.

Gamification in Healthcare: a successful combination

It is no coincidence that healthcare gamification startups are on the rise. There are many fields in which to apply gamification in healthcare, such as:

  • specialized medical training
  • rehabilitation
  • active ageing
  • prevention
  • improving adherence to therapy

With regards to training, the most common gamification approach is the use of simulators. Surgeons, for example, can perform routine and non-routine operations by interacting with a surgical simulation system. This approach allows for information to be gathered regarding the surgeon’s operation methods and to give constructive feedback to improve the surgeon’s performance. For nursing personnel, instead, training often involves the simulation of routine activities integrated with emergencies.

The most interesting projects, however, are created for the patient. The typical “goal-action-reward” game plan is perfectly suited to motivate specific daily practices that patients, especially patients suffering from chronic diseases, must follow and carry out regularly. Pharmaceutical companies have been interested in gamification in healthcare developments for some time now as instruments to improve adherence. Treatments and/or rehabilitation, especially when carried out in healthcare facilities and not in one’s own home, can be particularly expensive, both for the patient and caregivers, in terms of treatment, travel and lodging costs. Serious games for therapy is revolutionary in this sense. Not only does it allow the patient to remain in his or her own home, but is motivated through game mechanisms to adhere properly to the therapy, carry out exercises and report sensitive data to physicians and caregivers. When therapy requires physical exercise, serious games use a Kinect sensor capable of detecting even small human body movements which are then transformed into actions on a monitor.  Healthcare solutions that require hardware, such as Kinect, that are available for home use represent some of the most innovative solutions in telehealth.

The data gathered by patients in these first “pioneeristic” years show a high level of engagement and, consequently, an improvement in adherence to treatment. If this trend continues, gamification could play a key role in the future of healthcare.

© Domedica s.r.l.

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