Gamification of Healthcare Improves Patient Outcomes

Gamification of Healthcare Improves Patient Outcomes

Technological innovation has transformed health care with a wealth of new devices, drugs, and therapies to treat patients. But the best treatments aren’t worth much if patients don’t use them. In all too many cases, health care outcomes fall short not because the treatments don’t work, but because patients fail to properly comply with therapies prescribed to them. Some medical professionals and startup companies are trying to tackle this problem using gamification of healthcare to improve patient compliance.

Rewarding medication compliance

Dr. Katrina Firlik sees the problems with medication compliance firsthand so the Connecticut neurosurgeon decided to do something about it. She developed a mobile game that encourages people to stick with the medications that they’ve been prescribed. The app of her startup, HealthPrize, rewards patients with points each time they take their medication. Patients can earn enough rewards to apply toward gift cards, or even something altruistic, such as a donation to a charity. The rewards are paid for by pharmaceutical companies who want to make sure that their medications are taken properly.

It’s easy to think of HealthPrize as a novelty. But the company has data to back up its efficacy claims. The company says it has studied 300 patients using its product over 20 months. On average, the patients using HealthPrize were 54 percent more likely to take their blood pressure medication than patients who were on the same drugs but were not using the app. One of the keys for how HealthPrize works is by engaging with patients early. The first 90 days of starting a new prescription is the time when patients are most likely to experience the side effects that could cause them to stop taking their medication, Firlik explained in a blog post. By getting patients to stay with the drug regimen early, the app reinforces the behavior of taking the medication.

A more engaging approach to physical therapy

Some gamification of healthcare aims to take a more physical approach to compliance. Physical therapy is a necessary part of recovery for those who need to recover the flexibility and range of movement that they had prior to an injury. A clinician can ensure the patient is doing the exercises properly during a physical therapy session. But patients must continue the regimen on their own after they return home. At home, without the oversight of a professional, patients can lapse into improper movements – if they keep up with the exercise regimen at all. Many patients stop doing their exercises because they find them tedious and boring.

Technology startup BioGaming developed a game that helps patients do their exercises properly and keeps them engaged to continue with their physical therapy. BioGaming’s software works with Microsoft’s Kinect or Xbox gaming system, which has movement-tracking capabilities. To play, patients control an avatar that they see on a screen. The avatar must perform a series of movements in order to advance in the game. Those movements are actually physical therapy exercises.

The motion-tracking ability of the Microsoft system allows BioGaming’s software to track how the patient performs the exercise, information that can then be relayed to the physical therapist or doctor. That information can help the clinician determine if the patient is performing the exercises correctly and whether the exercises need to be modified, or whether certain exercises should be added or removed, according to GeekTime. BioGaming has an accompanying mobile app that allows the therapist and the patient to readily communicate, cutting down on the need for face-to-face sessions. Health industry regulators have recognized the value of the BioGaming technology. The FDA has approved the system for the U.S. market.

Gamification of healthcare for kids

Gamification companies are also addressing some of the more mundane aspects of healthcare, such as brushing teeth. Many adults have poor brushing technique, possibly because they never learned the proper technique while they were young. Grush, another gamification startup, is trying to nip bad teeth-brushing techniques in the bud. The company has developed a smart toothbrush that works in sync with a mobile app. The smart toothbrush has sensors that detect the position of the brush relative to the teeth. The app, which works on a smartphone or tablet, visually depicts a toothbrush and teeth to show how well they’re brushing and whether they are missing any spots.

For a kid, watching a cartoon version of teeth on a tablet could get old after awhile. So Grush has developed actual games that liven up the experience. In one of these games, the brushing action corresponds with cleaning the mud off of a giraffe. In order to properly clear off all of the mud in the game, children must properly brush all of their teeth. Grush even taps into some of the competitive elements of gamification by tracking how well a child brushes and allowing siblings to compete against each to see who can brush better.

The end game: better patient outcomes

Gamification of healthcare alone won’t solve the longstanding problem of medical compliance with prescribed treatments. Patients need to take the initiative themselves to use gamification software or an app. But the growing array of gamification choices for drug and physical therapies means that physicians have the option of making games a new part of their prescription instructions. It’s a high-tech way to achieve the healthy outcomes that physicians, insurance payers, and most of all, patients, want to achieve. Contact us to learn more about how gamification is changing healthcare.