Perhaps surprisingly, the average gamer is not a teenage boy but actually aged 34. With gaming going mainstream, those in the business world are taking what’s known as “game mechanics” and applying them to non-game situations to solve problems from recycling to your morning latte – incorporating competition, goals, rewards and game theory (how people make strategic decisions) into everyday life to engage customers and modify behaviour. 

And it’s coming to healthcare in a big way. The trend towards making healthcare fun and engaging is being driven by the mHealth movement, the rise of the empowered patient and the focus on prevention and value-based care. Games are being used in healthcare but use of game mechanics is still limited.

The potential for ‘gamification’ in healthcare is huge. Gamification can be used to help engage, educate, persuade and motivate healthcare professionals, patients, carers and the public – the ultimate objective being to change the way they think and behave. And it’s got massive potential – from disease diagnosis, management and awareness, through to medicines adherence, rehabilitation and prevention.     

NHS England’s Stop The Pressure is a prime example of a game but it doesn’t necessarily apply game mechanics. Yet the board games and web apps have brought about a 50% reduction in the incidence of pressure ulcers, which cost the NHS a staggering £3.8 million a day. Another example is the app game Septris for healthcare professionals, where the user diagnoses and treats virtual patients while also learning about sepsis. 

Pharma’s foray into gamification has been limited, though Boehringer Ingelheim’s high-profile Facebook game Syrum got tongues wagging. Indeed, the role gamification could play in drug adherence is naturally attractive, as is its potential in patient retention in clinical trials, says Mark Evans, digital strategy director at Langland. “Gamification gives us a way to reward and motivate [patients and HCPs] without breaking any rules. Where we have a captive audience, we have an opportunity to provide real value without needing to try to sell a product.”   

One opportunity is the use of gamification to crowdsource scientific research, such as Boehringer Ingelheim’s $20,000 competition to find a model that will predict the mutability of new compounds. Another potential application is its use as a clinical trial biomarker, with Pfizer for example currently assessing a game that could help to detect Alzheimer’s disease. Gamification’s capacity to raise the industry’s profile and reputation is also huge; and of course there are possibilities for incorporating game elements into e-details and medical education for HCPs, as well as in disease awareness, management and prevention. 

Interest in healthcare gamification will grow as results from early examples are seen and more pressure is placed on behaviour change and prevention rather than curative care. That, coupled with the possibilities for real-world data capture, could transform the healthcare landscape – from personalised healthcare and health insurance rewards for keeping disease at bay to prescribing gamified healthcare apps rather than drugs. 

The trick to being successful

is to make the project fun, challenging and addictive, says John Mack, editor and publisher of Pharma Marketing News. “You also need to avoid drug promotion and be aware that some mobile apps may be deemed medical devices, meaning strict regulatory requirements must be met before they can be used on the market,” says Evans. 

Top five tips

1) Understand your target audience, the objectives and purpose of the project 

2) Review examples of best practice 

3) Choose agencies/vendors wisely 

4) Consider the game elements and how to engage players 

5) Don’t forget the fun element

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This article was published in the September issue of PharmaTimes Magazine. You can access the digital issue here