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Is Gaming Changing Health Care and Helping You Live a Healthier Life? Part 2

Posted: 03/19/2012 4:35 pm

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

In part one Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., answered the question, "Is gaming changing the landscape in health care?"

In part two Fabio Gratton shares his insights on how gaming is helping to change the landscape in health care.

Bill Crounse, M.D., senior director of Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation, shares his insights in part three and additionally, as former senior director of clinical affairs for a telehealth technology company, media broadcaster, writer, and registered nurse, I (Barbara Ficarra) share my thoughts on how gaming is changing the landscape in health care today in part four.

Part 2

Fabio Gratton Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Ignite Health

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

A: Let's be honest with ourselves: A large majority of messages related to health and health care are tedious, dense, confusing, and boring -- and no amount of "dumbing-down" for the health-illiterate can compensate for the sleeping mind. While the gaming industry is far from perfect, they have at least figured out some of the secret ingredients of engagement.

A good indicator of that is the fact that by the time the average person reaches the age of 21 they have already spent more than 10,000 hour playing video games (Prensky, 2003). It's time we face the music: If health care were a game, it would be the worst game ever. So it should come as no surprise that most people aren't playing, and those that are, are losing.

Games and the underlying mechanics that make games engaging and fun are bound to have a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of business and life -- and nowhere will this be felt more than in health care.

When you look at it simply from the perspective of "health games," and by that I mean an experience that is deliberately designed to look, feel, and act like what we have come to expect from popular games such as Monopoly, Tetris, or Call of Duty, there is a huge opportunity to captivate and engage a world of people who regularly "tune out" the hundreds, if not thousands, of educational messages parents, teachers, and society are trying to doll out in barrels on a daily basis.

Sesame Street got the memo 50 years ago, yet despite a few occasional moments of inspired brilliance in the edutainment revolution (e.g., The LeapPad, Where is Carmen San Diego? and SimCity to name a few), the format and channel for engaging people and driving behavior change has not kept pace with mass consumer adoption of technology and thirst for transmedia story-driven interactivity.

Don't misunderstand -- "gamifying" health care is not a silver bullet. The act of improving health care can and should be approached from many different angles. What is rather surprising however is that while our understanding of disorders and diseases has evolved exponentially -- and with that, the scientific breakthroughs to address them -- our ability as a society to engage with those who need the science to live longer has not kept up.

Ironically, those who need it the most are the ones who don't know it, don't understand it, and don't care. And while direct to consumer health care advertising, mass media, and the Internet have dramatically increased the sheer volume of information and people's access to it, these advances have done relatively little to actually create knowledge and transform behavior.

If school systems were to do nothing else but weave health-related content into game-driven experiences I am confident we would see a dramatic rise in the percentage of people who actually listen, learn, and retain information. Don't take my word for it. There are literally hundreds of studies that support this statement; of course, most of these studies are looking at education through the broader lens of primary and secondary school systems, which, of course, are focused on antiquated models of subject-based learning. However, there have also been numerous studies examining how games impact health education in diseases like diabetes, cancer, and blood disorders -- and the results have been remarkably on par with those of their non-health care counterparts.

There are still many challenges involved in understanding which of the many aspects of games is most effective, relevant, and impactful on game-driven health learning -- and for every challenge there are dozens of equally-compelling theories. Is it the combination of sight, sound, and motion? Is it the interactivity? Is the time-tested game mechanics that create urgency, boost self-esteem, and provide a continuous feedback loop of positive reinforcement via reward points and incentives? Or perhaps the answer is really much more foundational than that: Maybe the brain of today's average adult -- a brain that grew up on Atari and Gameboy -- has changed to such a degree that systems that are not gamified simply no longer work?

Obviously, this entire area requires a more in-depth study, but either way, the facts are clear: Health care education has the chance to be far more effective when you introduce game elements into the mix. Be assured, no one is saying that being sick is fun. It's not. But that should be all the more reason why the health care experience shouldn't be sickening too.

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 three, Bill Crounse, M.D., senior director at Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation, shares his insights.

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