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Can Playing Games Improve Your Health?

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 by | Filed Under: Android, In The News, iOS

It seems like every business out there is excited by the prospect of gamification. For the uninitiated, gamification essentially means taking elements of game design and using them as part of a business strategy for customers. The general goal is to either educate customers or get them to change their behavior with a mixture of fun and some (hopefully) friendly competition. It’s a popular concept that is certainly getting a fair share of hype.

A report from Gartner estimates that about half of all organizations will have some form of gamification by the year 2015. But is gamification a good thing for healthcare? The idea seems to fly in the face of helping people get better, but gamification is definitely coming to the healthcare market. In some instances, it’s already here, and the hope is that it will leave a positive impact.

 While it may seem strange at first, gamification has the potential to truly affect health care for the better. The movement to introduce more gamification elements into health care is gaining momentum, and it’s driven by four main factors. The first is the general focus that’s being placed more on prevention rather than treatment. By preventing serious diseases like diabetes, healthcare costs are expected to be reduced.

The second factor is the transition of the industry into a more traditional business-to-consumer model. For decades, health care has been treated as a combination of interactions between patients, medical professionals, insurers, and employers, but now healthcare is being peddled more directly to customers. A third factor is the rise of the millennial generation, which is very used to gaming. And finally, a fourth factor involves the increasing popularity and proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. With these devices always on hand, they can be helpful tools for using health-related apps.

 When it comes to using gamification in healthcare, the general goal is to get patients to be more active in their health, thereby improving patient outcomes. Gamification seeks to take the natural desire among people to compete, and applying that to health creates a unique opportunity, but it has to be done right. To successfully implement gamification in healthcare, a number of keys points have to be considered. Gamification elements have to be well-designed, with incentives that will keep people playing long after their first game experience. A diverse selection of incentives is usually the best way to do this. In addition to that, a focus on short-term rewards is important since it gives the “player” reasons to be a part of the game, even if the big goal is weeks or even months off. Another important key is motivation has to be fully engaged through the use of these incentives, with a patient’s actions related to the desired outcome. If the actions they’re taking have little to do with what their goals are, they’ll get tired of the game quickly. And when creating a gamification element for health, privacy and security are particularly important. Health is a sensitive subject, and people want to know their information is being protected if the game requires that data. The concern over security is definitely at the forefront with the rise of mobile devices and BYOD, providing extra incentive to prioritize BYOD security.

 Though the field of healthcare gamification is still relatively young, there are a number of successful examples of its use. One game called Monster Manor has been developed for children who have diabetes. The game teaches and encourages kids to take their insulin and keep up with the schedule for testing and logging their blood sugar levels.

The game SuperBetter aims to help people reach health goals through quests. The goals can be to lose weight, recover from an injury, or simply get in better shape.The quests presented by the game show daily and weekly tasks designed to help players reach their goals.

Pain Squad is an iPhone app that helps children fighting cancer track their symptoms, which in turn can help their doctors more effectively manage their pain and treatments.


Developers and medical professionals still have far to go for gamification to really take hold in health care and be a major part in helping patients. The foundation is there to build around, however, and the potential, like for other businesses, is very promising. Don’t be surprised to find games playing an important role in your treatment and recovery in the near future.

~ Rick Delgado

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One Response to “Can Playing Games Improve Your Health?”

  1. Shanker says:

    Thanks Rick, for your detailed article!

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