We gathered a few of the most compelling gaming experiences that are showing real results today:

Gaming is a huge part of American life. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. households currently play video and mobile games. Those aren’t just the teenage boys in the rec room— 40% of gamers are women and 26% of Americans over the age of 50 play1. We choose games over other entertainment because they’re immersive, engaging and challenging almost every time.

Think how different the gaming interface is from the interface of healthcare…The cold waiting rooms, long hold times, more instructions than real help and support.

That’s led a huge range of organizations—from Humana to Johnson and Johnson; from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the AMA—to ask: How could the dynamics of gaming change healthcare?

One of the most promising areas is adherence, or—more broadly—sustained behavior change that helps people adopt lasting new habits. As Debra Lieberman, Director, Health Games Research at UC Santa Barbara says, “the beauty of a game is that it gives you a goal.” People will work longer and harder if they have a goal.

As you look across the professional literature, you’ll find study after study that shows the connection between gaming dynamics and some kind of positive outcome across therapeutic categories—from diet to asthma to cancer compliance to diabetes.

Creating a new habit: The Switch2Health Challenge

Switch2Health initially launched a consumer product called Relay. It’s a bracelet that users wear to track and upload their activity every day so they can find great deals and rewards from businesses. Over a half million hours of activity have already been achieved. They also released Step, a pedometer-based wellness program, designed to motive, educate and reward employees for healthy activity. At its core: S2H gets people moving. One of their first clients was Starbucks. Four months in, their program still had 80% participation, according to the S2H website.

Inspiring health and wellness @ work: Keas

With rising healthcare and insurance costs, employers are “getting in the game” by promoting health and wellness to their employees. Even though employee-focused health and wellness programs aren’t entirely new, few, if any, have incorporated gaming. Keas is working to change that paradigm by making corporate wellness a fun, social, and team-oriented game. Players join a team of six co-workers, choose individual and team health goals and then monitor their progress, unlocking new challenges and receiving new incentives along the way— incentives that have shown to increase wellness participation by 60%, according to Keas.com.

Getting support from your community: Avatar Alerts

We all know patients forget to take their medication. We also understand that taking medication isn’t always fun. So, we’re working on a new game in iQ, the innovation lab of GSW Worldwide. Avatar Alerts works with your mobile device to accompany you through your daily routine. Based on your logged or imported prescription data, your mobile device will alert you through a series of notifications, such as text, email or phone call. If you do not respond to these notifications then friends, family or even your social networks can be alerted to remind you. Avatar Alerts makes all these alerts entertaining and rewarding by applying a score to the time taken to respond. In other words, the faster you respond the more points you earn. These points could be used to customize your race-car, purchase buildings for your city or any other brand- or audience- specific platform. The prototype is in testing now.

Reinvigorating a routine: Big Blue Test

A totally different kind of gaming dynamic is seen every year in the Big Blue Test, a program from the Diabetes Hands Foundation. Sponsored in part by Roche, the event introduces a challenge dynamic. People with diabetes are encouraged to do the Big Blue Test any day between November 1 and November 14 at midnight Pacific Time, by testing their blood sugar, getting active, testing again, and sharing the results online at bigbluetest.org. In the last two years, just 14 minutes of exercise decreased participants’ blood sugar level between 15 and 20 percent. According to the Big Blue Test website, in 2010 more than 2,000 people did the Big Blue Test and over 120,000 people watched the Big Blue Test promotional video. In 2011, the number of participants climbed past 8,000.

Making the intangible, tangible: Humana-sponsored Trainer

Trainer was developed by a group of students from the University of Southern California (USC) with funding from Humana’s Innovation Center. It was co-created with the kids who would use it and has been recognized with an “Apps for Healthy Kids” award as well as a GE Healthymagination Award. Trainer gives players the responsibility of caring for creatures with dietary and fitness needs. The player actually trains with the creatures. When one of the creatures exercises, so does the player. Through the responses of the creatures, players quickly gain insight into how nutrition and fitness impact their daily lives. (Play it online at http://bit.ly/hAc2V3.)

Being a better patient: Re-Mission

The nonprofit HopeLab developed a cancer-fighting PC videogame called “Re-Mission,” targeted at teenagers and young adults with cancer. The game helps encourage them to stick with therapy: To keep the cancer from recurring, patients must take maintenance pills for as long as a year. Teens often don’t understand how important it is to take a daily pill, so they skip doses. Re-Mission has players navigate a nanobot through the insides of a human body and shoot at cancer cells—helping them see the impact the treatment can have. The game has made a real difference. One study showed that patients who played the game took their medications more consistently and absorbed cancer-related knowledge faster than those who did not play2.

1. Entertainment Software Association, 2010
2. Kato, Pamela M., Cole, Steve W., Bradlyn, Andrew S., & Pollock, Brad H. “A Video Game Improves Behavioral Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer: A Randomized Trial.” Pediatrics. 122.2 (2008): 305 317.(http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/122/2/e305.full.pdf).

  • Leigh Householder

    Leigh Householder is Managing Director of iQ, the innovation lab of GSW Worldwide. She is a highly skilled brand strategist, deep into the art of digital community construction and stewardship,


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