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How is Gaming Changing the Landscape in Health Care? Part 1 | Fabio Gratton, Ignite Health

Posted Jan 04 2012 12:25pm

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

Health care industry insiders answer the question:

“How is gaming changing the landscape in health care?”

First, Fabio Gratton, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Ignite Health says, “gamifying health care is not a silver bullet,” and in Part 2, Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, Founder and Director of the Center for Connected Health says that we have a long way to go to change the mindset of health care providers and consumers.  In Part 3, Bill Crounse, MD, Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation says gaming is another way to engage consumers in their health.  Additionally, in Part 4, I will offer my take on how gaming is changing the landscape in health care.

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-illiterati 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 healthcare 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-healthcare 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.

About Fabio Gratton

Fabio Gratton is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Ignite Health, one of the leading digital health care agencies in the US. During his 14-year career in digital marketing Fabio has worked with some of the largest pharmaceutical and medical device companies in the world– including Medtronic, Merck, Pfizer, Roche, Genentech, Bausch & Lomb, and Abbott. Along the way Fabio (a self-described gadget-geek, hard-cord gamer, and movie-junky) has helped create a ground-breaking, award-winning animated series for people living with HIV, created the first sim-style game for children living with diabetes, and led the unprecedented FDASM movement — an online twitter-fueled initiative that brought together agencies and pharmaceutical companies to discuss, debate, and share ideas regarding the impending FDA guidelines on the use of the Internet and social media.

Ignite Health
Follow Fabio on Twitter @skypen

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Next up

Part 2, Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, Founder and Director of the Center for Connected Health answers the question, “How is Gaming Changing the Landscape in Health Care?”

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