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How gaming is changing the game for health care
Video and online games aren’t just for youth anymore. According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada:

  • Fifty-nine percent of Canadians play computer or video games.
  • Thirty percent of Canadians play every day.
  • The average Canadian game player is 33 years old
  • Thirty-six percent of all Canadian game players are women.
  • Over 30% of Canadians over the age of 55 have played a video game in the past four weeks.

But what does this have to do with health care? Quite a bit, actually. Gaming is one of the hottest trends in the health care industry and its positive effects are being noticed.

According to recent studies, games are shifting the way health care providers operate and patients behave. The Journal of Pediatrics, for instance, noted that patients who use games for health are more engaged in their treatment, show 16% improved adherence and are more knowledgeable about their care plan.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has even funded a gaming project to help adult diabetics manage diet in a nontraditional way. The fund is also supporting other research projects including alternate reality games that teach substance abusers tactics to prevent real-world relapses.

Four ways to incorporate gaming

For patients, games are believed to assist in healthier, more engaged and preventative behaviour. If the research continues to support those claims, then games may be the next big medical breakthrough! You may want to get on the bandwagon and consider how to incorporate games into your practice or organizational development. Here are four focal areas to get you started:

  • Streamline care
    Replace reminding and monitoring with involvement and self-tracking.Kick off this focused gaming initiative with a Motivations Wellness Kit to reinforce the behaviour shift required to begin self-tracking. It will also help patients get excited about participating more fully in their health care journey.
  • Educate through experience
    Use entertainment and experience to create learning people can actually participate in.From wellness information to leading memory research, gaming has been proven to be an excellent educational tool. Consider your patient base and determine the education most needed and develop games that address those. Encourage patients to “exercise their mind” by promoting the games with exercise kits or sports bags.
  • Fit into real life
    Make tools fun and entertaining so that using them is a “want to do”, not a “have to do.”A poorly developed game isn’t fun; neither is one that provides an obstacle to adoption or use. When developing a game that is user-friendly, be sure to conduct usability and pilot testing to receive feedback on its overall fun factor and effectiveness. Thank testers with steel water bottles or walking pedometers for their input into making your game successful.
  • Reward right behaviour
    Use positive reinforcement and immediate rewards to sustain behaviour change.What’s a game without rewards! Whether it’s getting to the next level, collecting gold coins or scoring points, games offer immediate positive reinforcement. It’s even more effective if those games have offline incentives that can be traded in for their online efforts. For high scorers, consider jump ropes or fitness mats as a way to say “Great job, keep at it!”

Gaming may be fun, but it is serious business, too. The health care industry is using game theory and simulation in many exciting ways to assist patients and professional learning. Now may be just the right time to score some points for your organization and see what all the hullaballoo is about!

The Entertainment Software Association of Canada.Essential Facts 2011. Web. 28 Dec. 2011.

LaRoche, Todd. “Are You Game?: Gaming and the Healthcare Industry.” Web log post. Pixels & Pills — Thoughts on Pharma and Digital Media. Pixels & Pills, 11 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2011.

Hawn, Carleen. Games For Health: The Latest Tool In The Medical Care Arsenal. Rep. TechWatch, 4 Aug. 2009. Web. 27 Dec. 2011.

Slotko, Joshua. “Could Gaming Change Healthcare?” Web log post. Phamalive-The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry. Pharmalive, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Dec. 2011.

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