The Role of Gamification in the Healthcare Industry: Engagement & Motivation Through Practical Applications

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 60% of the total deaths in the world are due to chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. These NCDs are not only causes of mortality but also of co-morbidity, and represent a significant proportion of the costs in the health system.

Another point to consider is how these diseases require continuous care and the patient’s active participation in fighting them, which is not always easy to achieve. The empowerment of patients is a task that involves the interaction of communities, health professionals, politicians, and all other actors in society. Empowering patients means providing opportunities and the environment to develop skills, confidence, and knowledge to stop being a passive recipient and being an active partner in your own health care.

Achieving proper adherence to treatment has allowed healthcare professionals to explore new frontiers. If only there were some way to encourage these behaviors and improve patient engagement.

Today, we will discuss the importance of gamification in healthcare and how it can contribute to finding better ways to treat patients.


What Is Gamification?

The term “Gamification” has different definitions, some very broad and others very complex. One of the most widely used refers to the “use of game design elements in non-recreational contexts.” However, this definition raises certain questions: How can we game-elements outside of typical recreational games? In the same way, what is a non-playful context?

Gamification is so ubiquitous and in vogue in our society that the European Commission in its Horizon 2020 program for Connected Health Early Researcher Support System (CHESS) has made a call for a doctorate in the use of gamification to encourage behavior healthy in chronic diseases. The use of these techniques has been very effective in increasing participation in different activities, and we can see that the tendency to use them in health and medicine is increasing.


Games That Improve Professional Skills

The development of health games can be categorized into two different groups of key recipients with whom we can develop very different objectives:

1- Games aimed at the general population where activities can be carried out whose intention is oriented towards changes in lifestyle towards healthy habits through the acquisition of knowledge and skills in health.

2- Games aimed at healthcare professionals who may be oriented towards training them either during their undergraduate training period or continuing professional training.

Before we move forward, we must know how to differentiate between “good,” “bad,” and “lousy” gamification strategies and techniques. The key to a successful gamified health application is in the correct use of gamification techniques.


Why Use Gamification in the Healthcare Industry

Health professionals are often faced with the difficulty of attending face-to-face training courses. In addition, face-to-face training courses do not usually cover the training needed for each individual user. Since they are not moldable and tend to be highly oriented to product training and not so much to the management of pathology in global terms, it is through Gamification that we achieve a perfect balance.

With gamification, we can simulate real clinical situations and allow the healthcare professional to experience a more interactive learning environment. This will give individuals practical aspects related to patient management.


How to Use a Gamification Model in Healthcare

Use motivation as a hook

Gamification allows learning to be more playful and encourages the user to be more participatory. The motivation of learning a new experience challenges the user towards achieving prizes through online competitions.

Revitalization in medical events

Gamification helps in many facets, from filling patient satisfaction surveys to generating conversation among attendees or facilitating participation in debates. You can engage users by delivering key messages more clearly.


Capture the attention of those attending a medical event: interactive stands and Multitouch Tables

Providing information through multitouch screens, designed according to the needs of product communication or pathology training, allows users to have formative experiences through interactions (with screens).


The Good, the Bad, and the Lousy – Different Cases of Gamification

A common mistake is to think that by adding a point system to an activity, we have achieved the process of gamification. Offering points as rewards for specific actions might seem easy and almost even intuitive, but the concept of gamification is much bigger than that.

Let’s imagine that we are designing a gamified application to help patients with their treatment. If our application gives the patient the same amount of points for any action or activity, no matter how difficult or easy it is, it will not be very effective. The app would become the equivalent of having our fans congratulate us on everything we do. Something like this will soon feel like a false or dishonest compliment. No challenges lead to no learning; thus, no actual achievements will take place.

The “lousy” gamification, on the other hand, lies in the ignorance of the specific condition, of the desired behaviors, or the target population. Suppose the app is for diabetics, and we only have a superficial understanding of the disease. It may be the case that we think it is a good idea to reward the patient for each time insulin is applied, but we forget to take into account the maximum dose. Something as seemingly innocuous as an app can end up causing damage or even death.

Not taking into account these types of factors guarantees the failure of the project. The “good” gamification requires study and a deep understanding of the discipline, the disease, the possible behaviors, and the population.

One factor that many gamified health professionals seem to forget is the importance of the “onboarding” or induction process. So, in mobile applications as in real life, first impressions count. That first minute of use is vital for the long-term adoption of the app. The first look of the health app should give the patient and the management an idea of ​​what it means for them to have a disease and what the next steps should be.


Examples of Gamification in Healthcare

Here are some of the best examples of the use of gamification in clinical health care:

  1.  Re-mission: It was the first scientifically proven video game that shows signs of improved health indicators in young cancer patients.
  2. SnowWorld is a 3D action video game set in a frozen landscape and starring a snowman. The game aims to act as a powerful distractor of the patient’s pain perception during dressing changes and burn debridement..
  3. SPARX is a 3D video game that helps combat mild or moderate childhood depression based on cognitive behavioral therapy.
  4. Catch the Sperm (CTS) is a health game devised by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health that was created to raise awareness about the importance of condom use in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies.
  5. Limbs Alive is a health game specialized in hand and arm rehabilitation for people of all ages with hemiplegia.
  6. Escape from Diab is an adventure game aimed at boys and girls between 10-12 years old to improve their health habits through participation in different scenarios.


As this paradigm shift in the health system towards patient-centered care deepens and more emphasis is placed on its empowerment, the need to achieve effective strategies will become more and more evident.