By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
Back in August, we talked about how games have evolved from Pong and Space Invaders, to currently popular social-network games like Farmville. As we pointed out, learning can often happen faster and more effectively with a good game, and can even grease the wheels of social interactions.
We continue to believe that the potential for gaming in healthcare topics is seriously untapped. Back at the wildly popular ePatient Connections conference in September, Manny Hernandez introduced us to the Facebook game HealthSeeker, created by his Diabetes Hands Foundation, along with the Joslin Diabetes Center and sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. This is a good example of what should be out there. Another example, in the mental-health vein, are the games on the Stop Bullying Now website created by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Servives.
So, as we do sometimes, were giving you a few ideas for ways to make games that do meaningful work in healthcare.
First, consider these some pro bono brainstorming from the fine folks at Palio and Zemoga – that is, as long as you promise to go forth and make these ideas actually happen!
1. Mental health. Video games often get a bad rep for killing brain cells…until a few years ago, when researchers found that gaming might actually help develop cognitive skills. So how can we apply this to solving mental health issues? Think about someone with a severe phobia – not just being afraid of spiders, but losing sleep over it, fainting at the sight of one, experiencing panic attacks and hallucinations. A popular treatment for this type of condition is to put the patient in the presence of the thing that they are afraid of. Why not turn that into an augmented reality game? Have the patient to look at a screen that is playing a live video feed of him or herself. Now introduce moving spider graphics into the virtual environment. Introduce a number of challenges or exercises that help the patient overcome his or her fear of spiders, with incentives and rewards after completing each level. For further reading, check out how researchers at a Spanish University are using this technique.
2. Physical therapy. Kids undergoing physical therapy to recover from an accident or injury, or manage a condition, often struggle with the anger, frustration, and pain that accompany the exercises. Gaming offers a welcome distraction from the physical pain by motivating them with a mental challenge. We all know this, but I want to take it a step further – if there’s one thing kids love more than games, it’s social activity. When you introduce a social component to a game (consider the popularity of Rock Band, XBox Live, and Facebook’s Farmville), the player goes from being self-motivated to being motivated by a group of his or her peers. Gaming in groups allows patients to bond with each other and encourage each other as they overcome their conditions. Kids love asserting their individual personalities, whether they’re into sports, dancing, music or martial arts. We think that the most successful games help kids hone their talent in these activities so that the therapy becomes more about them and their interests then about the physical challenges of their bodies. Here’s an EXCELLENT list of 50 Awesome Video Games for Physical Therapy and Rehab.
3. Diabetes. A variety of data are extremely important in managing diabetes – insulin amounts and administration times; blood sugar measurements; exercise length, type and intensity; food intake. Tracking all of these data is daunting – but it can make the difference between a well-managed disease and progression, hospitalization or worse. Gaming simplifies these different health management activities, and a reward system can assist in keeping the patient on track. When there’s a lot of information involved, a trivia-based game usually does the trick. But since Pixels & Pills is founded on the concept of innovative partnerships, I’d like to see an already popular video game (Halo, anyone?) team up with a hospital or pharmaceutical brand so that patients who are properly managing their diabetes can unlock hidden levels, new characters, and other cool incentives. For some inspiration, read about how Bayer teamed up with Nintendo to launch their DIDGET device, which converts blood glucose test results into reward points.
I love games. Not just because they’re fun – but because they’re social, they’re interactive, and they are an excellent platform for digital innovation in the healthcare space that challenges both doctors and patients alike into making progress and overcoming a condition. How else has gaming been used in Pharma and healthcare? Send me some links or suggest some new ideas!