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Is Gaming Changing Health Care and Helping You Live a Healthier Life? Part 4

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

In parts one through three, Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D., Fabio Gratton, and Bill Crounse, M.D., offered their insights on how gaming is helping to change the landscape in health care, and now in part four, I offer my thoughts on gaming and health care.

Part 4

Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA, former senior director of clinical affairs for a telehealth technology company, media broadcaster, writer, and registered nurse, speaker, and founder of Healthin30.com shares insights on gaming and health.

How Is Gaming Helping to Change the Landscape in Health Care?

Health care today is all about you. Health care happens before you visit with your doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care provider. By taking steps to control your health and by becoming an empowered, engaged and a proactive consumer, it may help you achieve better health. You have the choice to make decisions in your health, and living a healthier life is about taking action. Gaming is about action, which allows you to become active and engaged in your health.

Gaming first needs to captivate the attention of all the health care silos in order to be a true game-changer in health care, but gaming is helping to change the landscape in health care, because gaming allows you to be in charge.

Gaming Is Popular

A few facts about gaming:

  • 72 percent of American households play computer or video games.
  • 82 percent of gamers are 18 years of age or older.
  • The average age of a game player is 37 years old.
  • 29 percent of Americans over the age of 50 play video games.
  • 42 percent of all game players are women.
  • 55 percent of gamers play games on their phones or hand-held device.

Social Health and Social Networking

A distinctive layer of gaming is social health which promotes patient and consumer engagement. Social health is an important area for all health care silos to understand and embrace.

Social networking goes beyond blogs. Social networking is a platform to communicate, collaborate and connect with consumers, and digital play can help foster behavior change and sustain a healthier lifestyle.

"Digital games, including virtual realities, computer simulations and online play, are valuable tools for fostering patient participation in health-related activities. This is why gaming is the latest tool in the arsenal to improve health outcomes: gaming makes health care fun." [Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]

Whether you engage online, with the Wii, Kinect or with the click of an app, gaming technology is transforming health care.

Mobile Health Continues to Soar

According to the research firm Frost & Sullivan, Fiercemobile Health Care reports, "The mobile health app market will grow to $392 million over the next five years, a 70 percent increase." Additionally, it's also reported that "Mobile healthcare and medical apps are predicted to reach 142 million downloads by 2016."

What's In it For You?

If you become engaged, proactive and empowered in your health care, you are more likely to adhere to action plans and sustain healthy behaviors.

Having support from family and friends can help you be accountable for your outcomes. Gaming can help you achieve your health goals in a fun and challenging fashion. Gaming often includes challenges and rewards.

How do we motivate individuals?

We start by calling in the tribes -- our family, our friends, our supporters, our motivators, our coaches, the navigators, and our peers -- to help us.

"Friends and family can provide social support and encouragement for healthy behavior. They can also gently remind the person when they get off track," said Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., a clinical and health psychologist with a private practice in Mill Valley, Calif.

Family and friends can be a positive influence for us to achieve better health because they can be our role model. "We learn by watching others. The behavior of people around us also influences our own standards and definitions for healthy lifestyles," said Greenberg. "Research shows there are more obese people in the social networks of obese people and normal weight people have more normal weight friends and family. "Therefore, by getting healthy, you naturally influence those around you to get healthy too. Your behavior change may make family and friends reevaluate their own lifestyles. If you can do it, they may feel more confident that they can do it too."

Behaviors Are Contagious and Can Spread in Social Networks

"Science also supports the idea that healthy and unhealthy behaviors are contagious and spread through social networks," said Greenberg. There is a landmark 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Christakis and Fowler.

It's good news that social networks can impact healthy behaviors, which can result in positive outcomes, but that's not enough.

Time to Break the Silos in Health Care

In order for gaming to spread in social networks, it's time to break the silos in health care to allow innovation and action to emerge. Dr. Kvedar notes that when it comes to gaming for health, there is a drift of two silos in health care: doctor-driven and consumer-driven.

His point is well taken, but I believe there are other specific silos in health care that haven't so much drifted apart, but just haven't fully met in the middle. The separation of silos impedes collaboration.

Payers, providers, pharmaceutical companies, academic health centers, research institutions, health IT, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, health and wellness retailers, employers, health and medical bloggers, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, patient bloggers, patients, caregivers, educators, consumers, government, manufacturers of medical device companies, social media experts, public relations and marketing firms, and health information providers -- online, print, radio and television -- are other silos in health care.

Need to Adopt a Collaborative Culture

"No business, institution, or government agency is immune from silo syndrome in which barriers develop among the organization's many parts. But adopting collaborative culture, processes, and tools can keep silo syndrome in check and create greater value." [Source: Bloomberg Business Week]

In the hospital, quality patient care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team approach. Outside the hospital, the same principles need to apply.

By breaking the silos, engagement across the specialties will foster innovation and action. Thought leaders and influencers from the various silos coming together to communicate, collaborate and connect can help transform health care from stagnant to spectacular.

John Kotter, contributor at Forbes writes, that one way to eliminate the silos is to create a "guiding coalition."

So while gaming is fun and cool, as Bill Crounse, M.D., states, we need cooperation and connection from all the silos to help transform health care and create the landscape we want for a healthier life.

"An idea that might resonate inside of a silo might just wither away." -- Seth Godin

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.

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