Games are fun. They have serious benefits too. The concept of using games to improve healthcare outcomes isn’t new. Although its been part of most health tech conferences the world over, it never seems to take central stage. At a late-day session at HIMSS16, Amanda Havard, Chief Innovation Officer at Health: ELT and Charlie Schroder, a digital strategist and consultant, talked about what’s holding the space back and how health stakeholders can launch gamified apps that really work, says an article in MobiHealthNews.
They cite several examples of healthcare gamification efforts with powerful effects. One game, from 1997, was designed to help children manage diabetes and led to a 77% reduction in urgent care visits. In another, people were motivated to exercise after virtual exercise in a game with an avatar that looked like them.
Havard and Schroder asked why such positive data hasn’t lead to broader adoption. “There are a lot of question marks over therapy that’s a digital tool — Where does that fall? Who needs to say that’s ok? Is there liability attached to that?” said Havard. “I tend to think that the unknown aspect here is what’s really keeping this from blowing up. If you think about what would happen if you had a drug that posted these kinds of numbers, that’s great, but that’s because there’s already a concrete vetting process of how you do a clinical trial, how you evaluate a drug.”
Havard had several suggestions for healthcare stakeholders looking to make gamified apps and health games work in the real world. The key theme was the importance of taking games seriously. “You need executive buy-in,” she said. “Obviously every organization is different, but you need the people far enough to the top to understand what you’re trying to achieve with better health outcomes. Think ‘We have decided to start analyzing our populations in such a way that we can give them targeted health initiatives, and this is how we’re going to do it, we’re going to see it through.”
She said it’s vital to recognise the diversity in populations and build apps with specific groups in mind. “You have to have clearly defined goals in terms of clinical outcomes and clearly defined patients. You don’t have to reach every member via a gamified app, via a mobile platform, via a game, today, tomorrow, or whenever you roll it out. Figure out what your pain points are, what the golden outcomes are, and go from there.”
These are valuable insights. Healthcare organisations, app developers and startups developing and implementing healthcare games apps need to keep these in mind to build relative and effective apps. Is gamification an underused innovation in Africa’s health systems? It could be a bigger part of mHealth.