On January 03, 2019, media reports flashed – “A video game-based ‘digital medicine’ tool can help reduce symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention/deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” This study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, confirming the feasibility and safety of the tool called Project: EVO, which delivers sensory and motor stimuli through an action video game experience.
This initiative reconfirms that technology is becoming a great enabler to provide integrated, comprehensive and cost effective approach in treating many diseases, particularly with ‘Digital Medicine.’ The above report on ‘Project EVO’ is an example of application of the concept of ‘gamification’ in digital medicine. Many consider ‘gamification’ as a game changer to create an engaging patient experience with added value. It makes patients getting involved in the disease-treatment process, especially for effective self-management of chronic disorders.
I shall focus on this area in today’s article, giving examples wherever available. However, let me start by recapitulating what is ‘gamification’ in the pharma industry.
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘gamification’ as: ‘The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.’ It further adds, ‘gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun.’
‘Gamification’ is assuming increasing importance, with disruptive digital innovations gradually becoming game changers in the pharma business. This is mainly because, it can deliver to a specific group of patients, doctors or other stakeholders exactly what they look for – with precision.
I suggested in my article, published in this blog on January 07, 2019 that pharma companies should facilitate self-management of chronicailments,not just for better outcomes, but also for improving the quality of patient engagement. To achieve this objective,‘gamification’ could play a remarkable role-such as disease awareness and prevention and when afflicted its desirable self-management. This has the potential to create a win-win situation between patients and a drug company.
This is so important, as ‘the old paradigm of the paternalistic model of medicine is now transforming into an equal level partnership between patients and professionals, aided and augmented by disruptive technologies. This comment was made in a study titled, ‘Digital health is a cultural transformation of traditional health care,’ published in mHealth on September 14, 2017.
‘Patient-doctor partnership is critical in the new paradigm:
One of the major ways to develop a partnership between the treating doctors along with the product/service providing pharma companies and patients is through mutually beneficial ‘patient engagement’ programs with added value.
That such programs can create a unique patient experience of better outcomes at a lesser cost, has already been established by a number of credible research studies. Taking a cue from quantum benefits that this initiative provides, many pharma companies are now making ‘patient engagement’ strategy as an integral part of their overall market access program, including the process of branding.
What does an effective patient engagement strategy involve?
An article titled, ‘Patient Engagement: A Key Element in Pharmaceutical Marketing Strategy,’ published in the IgeaHub on May 29, 2016 defines ‘patient engagement’ as a concept that combines a patient’s knowledge, skills, ability and willingness to manage his own health and care with interventions designed to increase activation and promote positive patient behaviors. This measure also involves offering relevant services to patients.
To assess the opportunity of patient services in the pharma industry, Accenture conducted a survey titled, ‘Pharma’s Growing Opportunity in Patient Services’, on 200+ pharma patient services executives, covering seven therapeutic areas – heart, lungs, brain, immune systems, bones, hormone/metabolism, and cancer. The study concluded,the future of patient services that requires patient engagement, is bright. It elaborated by saying, this approach offers pharmaceutical companies a tremendous opportunity – for those willing to invest in the right places and let patients know about them in the right way.
To move in this direction, ‘gamification’ is an efficient way for the pharma companies to follow. Let us see below how does ‘gamification’ work on the ground.
How does ‘gamification’ work?
According to the findings of Innovatemedtec, ‘gamification’ with health apps typically works in the following three ways:
- Allowing users to share progress and results with their friends or other users of the service, creating a competitive spirit to elicit more or better use of the specific health app service.
- Giving virtual gifts, such as badges, medals, stars during each stage of progress, generating a sense of achievement for greater patient motivation levels in disease monitoring and management.
- Advanced medical health applications can provide real-time biofeedback with built-in sensors. Or using a storytelling approach and explaining health literature related to diagnoses, medical procedures and patient behavior.
Thus, the primary reasons for introducing ‘gamification’ in the pharma industry would be to improve the disease awareness and increasing patients’ motivation for self-management for mutual benefits.
Improves disease awareness and motivation for self-management:
The precise rationale for ‘gamification’ in the pharma industry was nicely articulated in the ‘M.Sc. Thesis titled, ‘Gamification in the Pharmaceutical Industry – Exploring how European Pharmaceutical Organizations can build and use Gamified Mobile Applications to Improve Relations with Patients.’ This was written by Nanna Birkedal and jointly delivered by the University of Stirling and Lund University.
It highlighted: “Patients and industry experts both argue that awareness is important; constant reminders about healthy habits are pivotal for an improved lifestyle. Patients furthermore need to be motivated to act upon this and actively implement the required lifestyle changes. If pharmaceutical organizations succeed in helping the patients with overcoming challenges related to their illness by motivating them to enact the needed lifestyle changes, it will increase the perceived trust towards their brand and thereby strengthen their relationship with the patients. This research argues that digital gamification is suited for this purpose, hence why it may be advantageous for organizations to incorporate digital gamification …”
Why and how to motivate patients for self-management of chronic disease?
As I said before, after proper diagnosis of a chronic ailment and charting out a medical treatment pathway, self-management of the disease by patients plays a critical role. Thus, the question arises, how to motivate patients and more importantly, keep patients motivated for engaging in self-management of such nature.
There is also a need for continuous improvement of the ‘gamification’ process for a long-term engagement of patients, leading to progressively better outcomes. Many examples of success with ‘gamification’ are available for chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
One of the metrics used in ‘gamification’ to help diabetic patients stick with a digital health platform, making it a higher priority in their daily lives, is to provide useful timely information on their disease condition. This metric may include informing the user about some tangible changes in their health risks due to the disease. For example: “Over the last month your effective glucose has reduced the risk of losing your eyesight by 10 percent.” Accordingly, the patients may earn points or badges for using the app and accomplishing certain important tasks.
In this way, gamification can immensely help self-management through behavioral changes, improving disease outcomes. As Healthcare in America also reiterates: ‘There is nothing more motivating than knowing your health is improving in real time.’
Another study, and two examples of ‘gamification’ in pharma:
Another study titled, ‘Gamification: Applications for Health Promotion And Health Information Technology Engagement’, published by ResearchGate arrived at an interesting conclusion. It reiterated: ‘Game-based approaches (gamiﬁcation) can provide ideal strategies for health promotion, prevention, and self-management of chronic conditions. However, there is a need to clearly deﬁne components and uses of gamiﬁcation in healthcare for increased patient engagement in health information technology.’
Elaborating the point further, the authors emphasized that many health/physical activity apps provide feedback in a clear and concise manner and in a variety of formats (e.g., graphs, text or icons). The available option to share the feedbacks on social networking sites allows for further engagement by individuals and adds additional motivation and encouragement in attaining users’ goals. However, it recommends more studies to explore and identify the suitability of ‘gamification’ for health in clinical settings.
There have been several instances of gamification efforts health care with powerful effects. Let me cite just two interesting illustrations from mobihealthnews, as follows:
- One game, from 1997, was designed to help kids manage diabetes and led to a 77 percent reduction in urgent care visits.
- The other one showed, people were motivated to exercise after doing virtual exercise in a game with an avatar that looked like them.
As available from various literature, such as Healthcare in America, there are enough well-verified testimony, indicating that patients are motivated by gamified elements.
Consequently, some major global pharmaceutical companies have started testing the water. For example, the Media Release of Roche dated June 30, 2017 announces, the company has acquired mySugr - an Austrian startup that offers gamified solutions for diabetes management in a fun way, both for children and adults. It, reportedly, has more than a million registered users in 52 countries and is available in 13 different languages. Post-acquisition, it will be an integral part of Roche’s new patient-centered digital health services in diabetes care.
Hence, ‘gamification’ in pharma carries potential to be a win-win strategy in creating engaging, motivating and a unique patient experience in self-management of chronic diseases, for better outcomes.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.