Healthcare game changer

More people are playing Farmville than watching Dancing with the Stars.

More people are playing Farmville than watching Dancing with the Stars. More people are playing Texas Hold'em Poker than are watching Glee. And Zynga, maker of Farmville, has about half the monthly active users that Twitter does – 135 million versus 283 million.

Clearly, gaming is a big part of American life. People are choosing gaming for entertainment over all the other immersive options out there. As smartphones become even more ubiquitous, that puts a powerful gaming machine right in everyone's pocket.

Gaming is not just for kids. 18-49 year olds make up the largest percentage of gamers at 49%, and the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old. There are more people over 50 that play games (26%), than children under 18 (25%).

Gaming for Healthcare?

Anyone who has observed their teenager in the death grip of level 10 of Angry Birds recognizes the complete concentration and immersion that experience offers. Could some of that focus and engagement be used for healthcare?

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) took a look at the impact of health gaming and found that: “Sufficiently engaging games might enhance the effectiveness of health messaging, allowing individuals to practice useful thought patterns and behaviors and encouraging them to explore and learn from failure in safe virtual environments.” JAMA reported that recent games had positive outcomes, such as Re-Mission, a game for adolescent and young adult patients with cancer that improved adherence; and Wii Fit for obesity. Now, if that language sounds a little academic, consider the tone of most healthcare educational materials, which tend to be dry and impersonal.  Gaming can blend education and entertainment, so you can learn while having fun.

It comes back to your marketing objectives. Can you educate through a gaming experience? Can you motivate through a system of goals, feedback, and competition? Could gaming be another way to tell the story and get the message across? If so, gaming could be an emerging avenue worth trying.

Gaming clearly has advantages on the social web for sharing of scores, competition, and team play.  From a news perspective, there are many angles, from the patient, to the disease, to the game itself. Gaming offers multimedia assets that can be used in news releases, YouTube, or Facebook.

What works for consumers, works as well with healthcare practitioners. What better way to teach a doctor about a new mechanism of action than an immersive and interactive game/learning experience? With the increasing use of tablets and other devices in detailing, the opportunities will only increase.

Mark Davis is SVP and director of digital health at GCI Health.

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