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Is Gaming Changing Health Care and Helping You Live a Healthier Life? Part 1

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Do you think gaming can improve health care and help you live a healthier life?

There is no doubt gaming is all the rage, and according to The Entertainment Software Association, (ESA) consumers spent $25.1 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2010.

Jane McGonigal, game designer, in her TED Talk from February 2010 said, "Right now we spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games." She said she feels everyone needs to spend more time playing bigger and better games.

Bigger and better games, declares McGonigal, and why not? Gaming is popular, so can the momentum continue if the games played are with the intent to encourage a healthier lifestyle?

This is a four-part series addressing the issues of gaming in health care.

Is gaming changing the landscape in health care?

I asked a few health care industry experts to weigh in on the topic and answer the question: "How is gaming changing the landscape in health care?"

Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., founder and director at the Center for Connected Health; Bill Crounse, M.D., senior director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation; and Fabio Gratton, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Ignite Health, share their insights. Additionally, as former senior director of clinical affairs for a telehealth technology company, media broadcaster, writer, and registered nurse, I share my thoughts on how gaming is changing the landscape in health care today.

Part 1

Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., founder and director at the Center for Connected Health

Q: How is gaming helping to change the landscape in health care?

A: Everyone is doing it. Men, women, kids, baby boomers. Can health care providers ignore the fact that gaming can be another tool in their armamentarium? Will consumers embrace gaming as a way to get fit, lose weight or manage their high blood pressure?

When it comes to gaming for health, I see two silos drifting apart. First, traditional health care is long considered doctor-driven, serious and focused on addressing acute illness. It's assumed that if you are sick, you'll want to get better, so just follow the doctor's advice for God's sake! It's perceived that there's no room for gaming here, methinks. The prevailing view is that your health is no game; it's serious.

The other silo is the consumer-driven, highly-focused personal drive to improve one's health/wellness/fitness. This is about fun, being fit, looking youthful, svelte, hip, in. We want the right gadgets and the trendiest workout to create that youthful appearance we all strive for.

Here, creating an environment that gets folks competing online to achieve their health goals is more obvious and makes sense.

However, there is also middle ground, left up for grabs -- chronic illness. The traditional health care system is still very acute illness-focused, while the fitness crowd is about muscles, runs, reps, etc. In a fascinating commentary published in the Dec. 14 issue of JAMA, Allan S. Detsky, M.D., Ph.D., contends that the No. 1 thing consumers want from the health care system is, quite simply, to be better when ill. Detsky says patients want certain qualities from their health care providers, including timeliness, kindness, hope and certainty, and a trusting relationship. He rightly concludes that, "What people want when they are healthy may be very different from what they want when they are sick."

So, the question remains, can we use gaming to transform the market for chronic illness? I think we can. But a real mind set shift is required. Doctors have to begin to think that their patients might have fun getting better. Patients need to start thinking that their doctors can be a bit irreverent and that this is okay -- maybe even a good thing.

There are a number of very smart researchers and companies devoted to harnessing the psychology of gaming for improving health and wellness. We're increasingly seeing consumers respond to incentives, such as earning points, badges or virtual rewards for living healthier or achieving their personal health goals. Healthrageous, a company we launched from our center over a year ago is using all of these tools to improve engagement. We've only just scratched the surface.

And, with an estimated 500 million people using health care mobile apps by 2015, app developers are working overtime. Apps like Meal Snap from the Daily Burn's health and fitness platform estimates the calories of any food or drink, and AsthmaMD, iHeadache and the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach help people to track everything from triggers and medication to sleep patterns.

But we still have miles to go to change the mindset of health care providers and consumers. Game on.

Your turn

We would love to hear from you. Do you think gaming is changing the landscape in health care? Do you think it can help you live a healthier life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

As always, thank you for your valuable time and for sharing your insights.

Next up

Part 2, Fabio Gratton, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Ignite Health shares his thoughts.

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[Original post, "How is Gaming Changing the Landscape in Health Care?" Parts 1-4 published on Healthin30.]

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