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Could gamification make life better for patients and carers?




VitAL Magazine

4 October 2013




Over the past few years, the rise of “gamification” – using the dynamics of games and play to encourage behavioural change – has made a big impact, particularly in the consumer products and technology sectors. And as they embrace a more digital mindset, other industries are seeing the possibilities that tools such as gamification offer – notably the healthcare industry, which is already exploring how this approach can improve patient outcomes and make the process of educating patients easier and more effective.

A recent example is the Phillips “Kitten” scanner – a play-size version of a CAT scanner that helps kids understand what a scan involves, thereby reducing anxiety and stress. Children are invited to choose a toy animal, which they put through the scanner to replicate what will happen in the examination. Once inside the scanner, an RFID tag activates an animation on the scanner screens; introducing the animal, telling its story and explaining why it needs a scan. Through this process of storytelling and play, the child becomes comfortable with the idea of having a scan.

Other examples of using gamification to improve health outcomes include wellness apps on smart phones, which allow you to track how much exercise you have performed over a given day or week – theoretically encouraging you to maintain or increase your fitness. Great work is also being done by Google, who are looking at the way games can be used to support health in a variety of different ways; for example by enabling the streaming of data to healthcare practitioners.

Furthermore, gamification presents exciting opportunities for helping carers to better understand a patient’s condition, and enabling the carer and patient to work together more effectively as a team.

Asthma is one example of a condition which requires close collaboration between patient and carer, as well as careful management and quick response to worsening of symptoms. In asthma patients, symptoms can develop in children by the age of five and are usually related to specific “trigger” events, which can sometimes form a specific pattern. In order to prevent asthma attacks, the child and carer (parent) need to understand the often complex triggers that contribute to the condition.

Gamification could help the child/carer to understand and manage symptoms, learn how the child can help themselves, and know when professional help is required; while offering a fun and collaborative approach to understanding the condition. Ultimately, gamification can help the patient and carer to feel more in control of the condition, and could work for the management of other disease such as diabetes, cancer, or even depression. For elderly population, this approach can also offer the opportunity for forming positive social relationships with new people, or for staying connected with their family.  Gaming has sometimes been viewed as anti-social, but interactive games are now considered one of the most social activities there are – and a useful tool for forming friendships and networks.

Creating a positive relationship between caregivers and patients helps trust and understanding to form. In addition to developing better relationships and improved knowledge, in the long-term this approach could even allow a greater amount of medical responsibility to be handed over to the patient themselves.


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