Video Gaming Your Way to Better Health

By Jennifer Dennard
09:26 AM

The healthcare IT community is a technologically savvy lot, to be sure. Dreaming up systems that will ultimately improve patient health (and perhaps a bottom line or two) is certainly the work of creative and dedicated professionals. Which is why I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that when this crowd needs to blow off steam after a hard day’s work, they flip on their favorite gaming console – or at least click over to Farmville to see how their latest cash crop is coming along. (Implementations are hard, and Call of Duty: Black Ops seems like perfect way to get all that pent-up anxiety out.)

Which is also why I’m sure there’s some sort of connection that can be made between the healthcare IT community and the folks at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) – a gathering of video game developers, players and enthusiasts that (somebody correct me if I’m wrong) rivals HIMSS in its over-the-top exhibitor largesse.

A recent article at mentions that “Sixty-seven percent of households have at least one member who plays video games and 40 percent of those players are female.” This statement begs the question, can the healthcare and video-gaming industries take advantage of this statistic to develop games that can improve clinical outcomes?

I know that some providers, like the Mayo Clinic, have toyed with Second Life in various capacities. But I have yet to hear of any games making it to mainstream care – something that can be played in the waiting room at a pediatrician, accessible via your mobile phone, part of a greater clinical program related to weight loss, smoking cessation, etc.

Perhaps one will be integrated into the winning app of the contest sponsored by the Aetna Foundation and Health 2.0 conference, which will award a developer $25,000 for creating a new, interactive browser-based application designed to make data about obesity more accessible and usable.

No doubt ongoing projects at Health Games Research will shed some light on this. According to its website, current projects in the works are “investigating how various types of digital games can be designed to help players improve their physical activity, lifestyle habits, prevention behaviors, self-care, adherence to treatment plans, and/or self-management of chronic health conditions.”

Some “projects look at existing consumer … to repurpose them to achieve health goals. Other grantee projects are designing and testing new games or game prototypes, using mobile technologies, GPS systems, robots, social network games, camera-based games, alternate reality games, context aware games, virtual worlds, multiplayer online games, console games, computer/Internet-based games, and casual games.”

Debra Lieberman, Ph.D., Director of Health Games Research, foresees the healthcare industry incorporating gaming into more and more clinical programs. “We will see more use of digital games in a variety of clinical settings, as the health games field matures,” she explains. “Healthcare providers have become increasingly receptive to the use of digital games for clinical training, and for the rehearsal of hospital procedures to be implemented in emergencies and epidemics.

“Clinicians also use games to deliver care, such as for diagnosis, delivery of therapies and treatments, pain and anxiety distraction, physical therapy and rehabilitation, preventing drug and alcohol addiction or preventing relapse, supporting patients’ adherence to their treatment plan, and promoting healthy lifestyles.

“Some pediatricians provide health games in their waiting rooms, not only to provide entertainment and patient education, but also to serve as an ice-breaker when they play games with their young patients. For once, the child can be the expert in the doctor-patient relationship, because the child usually knows more about video game playing than the doctor. We have seen that youngsters become more willing to talk about their symptoms or ask pertinent questions about their health after enjoying a health game with their doctor.

“Games are so motivating, engaging and interactive that they can be designed to address a wide range of clinical needs and support the delivery of various medical and therapeutic treatments, for all age groups.”

Have you seen video games have a positive effect on clinical outcomes? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.



Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research.