Are You Game?: Gaming and the Healthcare Industry


By Todd LaRoche (@toddlaroche)

I wasnt more than a small child the first time I hyper-spaced through the galaxy in Asteroids. Within seconds of whizzing past meteors and shooting stars, I was hooked and I wasnt alone. Over the past 40 years, video games have changed our culture. They influence the way we live and play, how we learn and communicate, and how we are entertained.

The latest genre of online games, such as Farmville, Frontierville, Mafia Wars and Café World, are increasingly popular and played daily by people in all walks of life. Pew Research Center reports more than half of American adults age 18 and older (53%) play video games, with the computer being the most popular gaming device. Games are not passively consumed like television; they require interaction and decision-making. But are they applicable for the health care industry?

Its still early days for health care and gaming, but Pharma should be thinking about the use of interactive games for health purposes. Heres why:

Extend associations to the offline world – Recently, Cascadian Farm provided a branded crop blueberries for Farmville players. This Washington-based organic farmer transcended the physical world to the virtual fields, getting their logo and brand presented to more than 80 million users. As new games and virtual worlds are developed, pharma should look for opportunities to deliver education, build communities and positively influence health.

Improve learning outcomes In some subjects, poor test results can be more than just personal failure – they can be life and death; especially for health care professionals. Simulation learning among nursing and medical professionals provides the opportunity to develop and refine skills without compromising the safety of real patients. After all, who doesnt want their surgeon or physician assistant honing their hand-eye coordination?

Games can also be fun and educational for patients, enabling them to test and deepen their understanding of issues for better health management. For example, diabetics need to master nutritional skills and manage blood sugars. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded a gaming project to help adult diabetics manage diet in a nontraditional way. They are also supporting other research projects including alternate reality games that teach substance abusers tactics to prevent real-world relapses and computer-based programs that use Wii technology to help Parkinsons patients with balance.

Increase social interaction Social networks provide group support for difficult tasks or emotional situations. While some individuals are comfortable attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or cancer support groups, others opt out due to fear being exposed or unsuccessful. Social interaction in health care games may be useful in encouraging healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy eating or in connecting people in similar situations, letting them know they are not alone.

The world of health-focused games is growing, covering a wide range of activities from rehab & physical therapy, disease management, health & behavior change, bio-feedback, epidemiology, cognitive exercise and nutrition and health education. Well-designed health games can go far in advancing many health care goals: reversing the epidemic of obesity, driving down tobacco and alcohol use, improving the quality of health care delivery or enhancing the performance of public health system. While achieving good health is serious business, it doesnt mean that it cant be fun.

So what does this mean for the pharma industry? Game on!



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