Gamification of Healthcare: Emergence of the Digital Practitioner?

Gamification in healthcare is gaining momentum, with attempts to apply gaming principles to improve patient clinical outcomes. This trend establishes the need for a “digital practitioner” who channels these games, monitors progress, and selects the most appropriate ones for a given patient.

Gamification includes applying game design techniques, game styles, game mechanics or non-game applications as a channel to incorporate healthy behaviors and thereby potentially transform patient outcomes. Gamified apps, therapies and devices are gradually appearing in the field of healthcare that helps to make easy behavior changes in better and fun way. Gamification procedures in healthcare industry is still at experimental stage and majorly applied to health and wellness as an educational and training tool to encourage people for taking actions leading to health benefits.

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Rising adoption of digital tools by patients and increasing digitalization in healthcare is expected to fuel the growth of the healthcare gamification market during the forecast period. Additionally, demographic shift towards millennial that are conscious regarding personal health and significantly dependent on wearable devices for fitness tracking are further expected to drive the market growth. Moreover, product innovation and development of medical device industry as well as increasing usage of mobile smartphones are likely to offer growth opportunities to the companies in the healthcare gamification market.

The application of behavioral economics principles in healthcare has been transformed through the use of technology and recently the advent of video gaming concepts, or gamification, to modify patient behaviors. The role of practitioners in the era of gamification has not been well established, but it is possible that the need has arisen for development of clinical practice guidelines and the “digital practitioner”: one who specializes in healthcare apps, accepts referrals from other practitioners, identifies the best programs to meet individual patient needs, and consults to assess whether game apps might improve clinical outcomes.

Principles of behavioral economics transcend many industries, including healthcare.1 One such principle recognizes that although a rational actor will make decisions based on the most beneficial outcomes or utility, humans commonly demonstrate irrationality by acting against their own self-interest, even when they are aware of the implications of their actions. Such irrational behavior may have broad consequences for disease prevention and treatment. Sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, recreational drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, and nonadherence to prescribed medical treatments represent examples of irrational health behaviors.

Behavioral economists have developed interventions to overcome unhealthy behaviors based on their understanding of the heuristics and biases underpinning these irrational behaviors.1 One interventional method is “nudging,” which refers to any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.2 In healthcare, techniques such as targeted diet programs and support groups for smoking cessation, among others, have been introduced to drive behavior modifications with varying success. Regardless of the form an intervention takes, patients must adopt the recommended behavioral change to achieve success.

As gamification and software platforms become more accepted, it is possible that the need arises for the new world of the “digital practitioner”: one who specializes in healthcare apps, accepts referrals from other practitioners, identifies the best programs to meet individual patient needs, and consults to assess whether game applications might improve clinical outcomes. Getting to this point will require new assessment tools validated via real-world evidence and comparative effectiveness research. Just as patients vary in their responses to medications, it is reasonable to assume that some patients will benefit more from one game over another. A 2-way gaming interface could permit the digital practitioner to monitor the progress of the patient, address any deficiencies that might be noted, and adjust the game accordingly. Noted deficiencies could include lack of adherence to the program, skipping levels, and successes or failures in maintaining targets.



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