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How game-ifying healthcare could translate into better health

Published on April 2nd, 2012 by in Uncategorized

Healthcare has a lot to learn from people who play games.

People are flocking to online social games. About 62 million people in the U.S. played social games in 2011, according to TripWire Magazine. The leading social game provider, Zynga, counts more than 240 million monthly active users and some 60 million daily active users, playing games like FarmVille, CityVille  and Words with Friends.

Contrast these games players with the average patient and you’ll see vastly different levels of engagement. Just ask any doctor whether their patients do enough to manage their health. I guarantee the answer will be a resounding “no.”

What physicians know anecdotally from patient visits is borne out by national statistics. Diabetes affects more than 8 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than 1 in 3 (35%) of adults ages 20 and older have prediabetes. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the CDC. Yet 19% of adults ages 18 and older still lit up their cancer sticks in 2010. And more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke as well as certain types of cancer.

Clearly, Americans aren’t doing enough to take care of their health. Yet they devote time to building virtual cities and farms or playing Texas Hold ‘Em online.

Now what if we took some of the addictive  and social qualities of online games and applied them to health monitoring apps like Lose It!, which reportedly has already helped users lose more than 9 million pounds? Imagine if people became addicted to tracking and improving their health.

Here are just a few reasons it makes sense to game-ify health monitoring apps:

  • People will begin to see their own health as something that can be improved, if they put some effort into achieving incremental goals.
  • People will become engaged and focused on improving their healthcare indicators, such as weight, blood pressure, or blood sugar.
  • People will derive a sense of self worth from improving their “numbers.”
  • Healthcare no longer has to be a solitary pursuit or something that occurs in isolation. By clicking a link people can post their in-game health performance scores on their Facebook walls and share their accomplishments with friends and family. Plus online social networking features could allow them to compare how they’re doing with others facing the same battles to bring health indicators into “healthy ranges.”
  • A screenshot of a graph that shows you how you’re doing over time makes it easier to visualize whether you’re making any headway and how far you have to go.
  • To game-ify healthcare is to make it something fun to monitor and not drudgery.
  • In the longer term, better health is a likely outcome.

When it comes to our health, becoming game players might make winners of us all.

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