Health Systems | By | 03/30/18 | 2 Minute Read

Does Gamification Work In Healthcare?

For the past few years, gamification has been a serious buzzword in healthcare. The idea of turning adherence into a game seems like a good one. After all, people love games to the point of mild addiction (think: Pokemon Go).

What if we could channel that dedication and interest into healthy behaviors instead of just slingshotting imaginary rocks at imaginary birds? Supporters of gamification believe this methodology could potentially transform patient outcomes.

And yet, as with any new idea or movement in healthcare, the critics are never far behind. They say gamification makes for a snazzy topic at a health conference, but it can’t deliver sustained behavior change on the scale that its supporters suggest.

So who’s right? Does gamification work in healthcare? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study that definitively answers this question. (Is there ever?) However there is some existing research that suggests key points. Here’s what we know so far:

Gamification is already widespread in healthcare
An estimated 63% of employer-sponsored wellness programs feature elements of gamification/competition, and 24% are interested in offering such features. And as of 2016, research has identified 64 health apps that include gamification in the National Health Service (NHS) Health Apps Library and top-rated medical, health and wellness apps (defined by Apple and Google Play).

But it lacks standardization
Despite all of these apps, programs and gamified services, there is no universally recognized model for effective gamification. Some programs use badges, others incorporate points, and even more try a team-based approach to drive stickiness. Although the gaming industry has developed certain guidelines, such as protecting personal data, the world of gamified health products operate in a bit of leadership vacuum.

It seems to work well for behavioral health
One study from 2014 examined the efficacy of gamification on adults with anxiety. The researchers found that participants who played a 40-minute game were able to reduce their anxiety considerably. Interestingly, participants who played only a 20-minute version of the same game did not see the same results. Another study reported similar results around reduction of perceived pain after using a gamified health app. And speaking of Pokemon Go, one study even found players of the game to be more positive, friendly, and physically active.

Yet more research is needed for other conditions
Among the studies and research done on this topic, there was one consistent theme that ran through them—more research is needed. Until that research is published, we’ll need to keep exploring the pros and cons of gamification as it relates to health outcomes.

This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.

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