Oct 31

Gamification of Healthcare

University of Pennsylvania recently held a competition for multi-discipline student teams to create serious games that help solve real world problems related to healthcare in the city of Philadelphia.


I personally believe that we are right on the cusp of a huge trend where gamification and/or crowdsourcing become major players in the Healthcare/wellness sector.  Healthcare is serious business.  These are our lives; our minds and bodies we are dealing with here.

But Healthcare is not exactly an engaging topic.  ”Gee I can’t wait to go to the doctor and get some tests run,” said no one ever ( I apologize for the cliche).  Gamification represents a great way for healthcare providers to get their clients engaged and active in their own health.  As the spouse of a healthcare professional, I know that patient responsibility and following discharge instruction plays a huge part in a care plan, and that it is often the area that is overlooked or ignored by the patient (which in turn leads to return visits, higher costs, etc).

But gamification can address this by providing both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for the patient.  It can provide an intuitive platform for tracking of behaviors and other metrics for individual patients or entire populations.  See the rise of social media-enabled fitness tracking portals (e.g Fitocracy, Livestrong.com) for just a small dose of where we are headed.



And gamification is already making a difference in healthcare in another big way.  By combining gamification and crowdsourcing (my favorite combo!), designers can empower the entire world to help solve some of the world’s toughest health-related problems (and lots of other problems too).  Games such as FoldIt enable users to solve puzzles that are analogous to challenges by researchers in the real world.  In the case of FoldIt, players arrange molecular components to find the 3D structure of enzymes.  These structures are important for understanding diseases and developing new medicines and other therapies.


The genius here is that human players are much better at solving these kinds of puzzles than computers.  Our brains allow us to very quickly identify and eliminate incorrect solutions while computer run simulation must painstakingly test every possible solution (which is a lot of possibilities for something as complex as the 3D structure of an enzyme).  Ultimately this means that we can solve these types of problems much faster than machines; we just need the framework game mechanics to do it.

As the world gets more complex and our lives get busier, I think gamification will emerge as one of the next big trends to help us make sense of it all.  And by building the platforms and doing the research now, we can create a future where we can leverage the minds and creative power of the entire world to make it a better place.

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