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What Healthcare Can Learn From  Game Design

Posted by Siobhan Bulfin on May 31, 2019 1:12:00 PM

Patient numbers and their needs are escalating, creating an exponential problem for clinicians. The traditional model of medicine simply can’t keep up with this high demand. In response, many health organizations are searching for scalable solutions to rising patient needs.

What many haven’t considered is that perhaps the solution has already been invented. It just hasn’t been fully accepted in medical settings—yet!

Take, for instance, gaming technology. Game design is so advanced that players can participate in augmented or virtual reality settings.


Plus, the industry is on fire. Last year alone $43.8 billion was generated in revenue, up 18% from the previous year. It’s growing fast enough to potentially keep up with healthcare expansion.

Game technology, if applied to healthcare, could have a resounding effect on patient engagement and behavior change.

What can healthcare learn from gaming?

Game designers have developed the ability to capture attention, maintain interest, and sustain user motivation. Interestingly, these are a few of the top principles healthcare is trying to capitalize on. If healthcare wants to learn how to keep patients engaged and motivated, game designers are the people to talk to.

Motivational principles behind games

What game artists understand is that competitive fun often motivates people more than intellectual reasoning. Game artists capitalize on role play and virtual reality to increase user involvement. Healthcare, on the other hand, has tried to appeal primarily to human reason and logic to motivate behavior change.

This traditional approach is still necessary. However, patients could potentially grow in intrinsic motivation if game principles were applied in treatment plans. Similar to how children learn through play, patients can develop skills and knowledge without extrinsic motivation from clinicians.

Social connection applied in gaming contexts

Gaming has also introduced new ideas about tech-enabled social connection. In gaming 80% of users are highly motivated by social interaction, and less so by winning or losing the game.

This tendency could play a big role in the development of social platforms in healthcare. Learning from game design could improve peer interaction around chronic illness and help improve behaviors.

Skill development through interactive designs

Another concept that game artists have leveraged is interactive learning. In healthcare, this has been applied to clinician training. For example, interactive learning helps clinicians improve their responses to life-threatening patient circumstances. Game technology is allowing clinicians to learn how to manage these situations without putting an actual patient at risk.

Patients also benefit from game simulation. For example, children have learned to understand the mechanics of monitoring diabetes through gaming.

One children’s game in particular is designed to increase patient self-management. Here’s how they do it. Players win by managing insulin levels while simultaneously keeping glucose levels in the right range. Studies have shown that these children were better able to self-manage their diabetes and communicate with their parents.

Perceived user control

Gaming systems have also been developed to give users a sense of perceived control. Applied in healthcare, this can help patients manage pain, anxiety, and treatment plans such as physical therapy or radiation. One study looked at cancer patients who played for at least 10 minutes during their treatment. They were less likely to experience post-treatment nausea.

Making physical activity fun again

Plenty of literature has focused on the negative effects of games, including its tendency to reward sedentary lifestyles. However, in the last decade, applied game design in healthcare settings can include features that reward physical activity. Healthcare can draw on this feature of using external rewards to make physical activity fun and gratifying.

These are just a few of the discoveries by game designers that have direct implications for the future of patient wellness. By integrating gaming technology, healthcare may be better able to motivate behavior change.

Gaming personas as applied in healthcare

Another strong point of game design is its focus on gaming personas. Game artists design their games with specific end users in mind. For instance, they consider basic criteria such as demographics, goals, experiences, and education. In using this information, they can customize games to fit a specific type of user.

They also consider factors such as player personality. This allows designers to engineer a game that specifically motivates users based on their personality traits. Game artists utilize methods such as surveys, focus groups, and analyst reports to further customize the experience.

By considering the end user in every decision, game designers can address gamers’ specific pain points and struggles. This technology can carry over into healthcare. It can be used to customize patient engagement and education, and to consider the social determinants of health. Game designers know how to reach their target audience and keep them motivated.

How to use technology to engage patients

The crossover between game design and the type of experience health IT wants patients to have is very similar. Games do this by making education fun all while helping users connect with peers.

Healthcare can do the same. We can use similar tech features to enhance human connection and improve patient outcomes. For instance, at Melon we connect patients, clinicians, and peers in interactive experiences that encourage behavior change and internal motivation.

Health tech is developing at revolutionary speeds. Learn how your practice and your patients can benefit from interactive gaming experiences.

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Topics: patient engagement, scaleable healthcare, patient community, behavior change

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