Gaming in Healthcare

Gaming in healthcare is a rapidly developing industry within the digital health paradigm that aims to bridge the gap between medicine, entertainment, technology and education.  To be classified as such, a game must be entertaining while at the same time achieving a given health benefit. Games for Health are available in all forms imaginable – online, video game consoles, CD-Rom/DVD, computer, mobile, television, board games and others. It is important to distinguish healthcare games from gamification of healthcare which refers to using elements such as social capital, targeted incentives and others to drive behaviour modification leading to healthcare gains in real life. Games addressing healthcare problems often use principles of gamification but these principles can also be used outside of traditional games .

Photo: Patrick Hoesly

Games have a number of applications in healthcare.

  • Patients suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and cancer can use games such as Re-Mission to manage condition.
  • Games can be adopted in virtual and real physical therapy (e.g. Wii-Habilitation).
  • Games with build in health education offer an alternative to traditional learning methods and can significantly improve health knowledge. Professional medical training games such as Burn Center™ can also be used in clinical practice.
  • Wellness promotion games promote healthy lifestyle and behavioral change and can be classified into four main categories. Exercise games, or ‘exergames’ (e.g. Wii Fit Plus and MayaFit) involve physical activity, healthy eating games improve eating habits and knowledge on nutrition and weight management, mental health games (e.g. Fit Brains) are designed to improve cognitive abilities and smoking cessation games help smokers quit in an entertaining way.
  • Healthcare marketing  games have the potential to reach consumers in an impactful and non-invasive way. They can also be used in a social context to inspire behavioral change.

According to a 2008 report by Physic Ventures and iConecto, the global video game industry accounted to $42 billion in 2007. Within the industry, the Games for Health segment represents approximately $6.6 billion, with revenues coming mainly from two direct-to-consumer categories – exercising ($6.4 billion) and brain fitness games. Currently there are more than 300 health-related games on the market. Rapid growth is being driven by diverse demographic segments, demand for better health and wellness, booming video game industry and the growing role of social media.

Photo: Rebecca Pollard

An increasing number of clinical studies and research papers report the benefits of games on improving health. Games for Health play an important role in getting people more committed to a healthy lifestyle. They give people a long-term goal and drive sustainable behavior change in an inspiring, engaging and entertaining way. Games can have the positive effect of social networks. Support and positive social pressure increases commitment and leads to improved health outcomes. By increasing adherence to treatment, self-efficacy, and knowledge about care plan, Games for Health can dramatically improve patient care. They also hold the promise to make healthcare interaction more inspiring and to streamline care by eliminating the need for constant monitoring. Finally, through bringing scientists and gamers together and making use of brain power around the world, games such as Foldit can advance health research and help combat diseases.

The Games for Health market is currently dominated by large corporations such as Nintendo. With venture capital firms, programmers and publishers becoming more active, this is starting to change.