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Gamification in Healthcare: Using Game Mechanics to Boost Patient Engagement 

Kelsey Zaporowski

Updox Content Writer

Patient engagement is one of the largest contributors to your healthcare practice’s success. Research has shown that enhanced engagement benefits both patients and healthcare practices

This article will demonstrate how incorporating gamification elements in healthcare can augment patient engagement efforts. 

The first step is understanding the definition of gamification and how it can be applied to healthcare. Once we establish how it can be utilized, we’ll provide strategies for introducing it, review its real-life applications in healthcare, and consider its future. 

What Does Gamification in Healthcare Mean?

Before delving into its implications in healthcare, let’s start by defining “gamification.” Gamification refers to using game mechanics and techniques in non-gaming settings with the principal objective of increasing engagement. 

Now, how does that apply to healthcare? The overarching aim is to improve patient care and outcomes by providing interactive opportunities. 

Typically, gamification in healthcare encourages patients to be proactive about their individual health journey. It might also help them self-manage long-term conditions or prevent disease.  

Gaming mechanics applied to healthcare could include participation in personal and shared challenges. Users may also earn community recognition and badges and accrue points that may be redeemed for rewards.  

These methodologies are shown to foster motivation and engagement, but why is patient engagement important in the first place? 

A recent review found that higher patient engagement levels consistently had a positive impact on many aspects of healthcare. It cited better health outcomes, improved patient satisfaction, and a sense of empowerment.  

Reduction of costs was another welcome benefit for providers. 

One example of gamification in healthcare is step counter apps. Seeing their steps accumulate throughout their day can help improve patients’ sense of accomplishment and motivation.  

At its core, gamification is turning a mundane act into a game by offering opportunities to “win” by offering achievement badges and progress trackers. Apps like Fitbit record activity through wearable fitness trackers, allowing wearers to establish and strive to meet specific goals. 

Meanwhile, the Strava platform allows you to track, share, and compare activity achievements with others. Here, competitiveness is a useful tool to motivate users. 

Research backs up claims that gamification enhances patient engagement. One study found gamification boosts patient participation in the online community. It led to greater participation in appointments and posting reviews of their experience. 
 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS: Patient Engagement When is a Patient Truly Engaged? 

Strategies for Introducing Gamification in Healthcare

It’s clear that tapping into the power of gamification can boost satisfaction and engagement in healthcare. It’s beneficial for both patients and healthcare organizations. Let’s examine ways in which gamification can be achieved. 

Accomplishing Goals

Goal setting is a major element of healthcare gamification, especially when they are personalized. Personalization helps users set goals at an appropriate level, which can be adjusted as they make progress. 

An example of goal setting can be as simple as deciding a minimum number of steps to take each day. Since progress can be checked periodically, users can see their achievements instantly. 

Earning Points, Badges, and Rewards

Points and badges can reward a variety of positive behavior modifications, including taking medication on time and committing to a healthy diet. 

We know that incentive is relative to user engagement. A study that examined how gaining rewards was linked to continued engagement among users of a healthcare app found that reward points awarded immediately upon the completion of health-related tasks drove higher levels of engagement. 

Social Interaction Features

Social interaction features introduce a sense of sharing, support, and competitiveness among users. 

These features include leaderboards, where participants can see how they rank compared to others, which helps to foster an environment of competition and keep users motivated. 

Community forums are also an inclusive way for users to compare their experiences and spur each other on. Mutual support encourages users to continue along their healthcare journey, while “share” features allow users to communicate their results on social media platforms. 

Tracking Progression

Progression tracking is an important feature of gamification in healthcare apps. Progress bars or other visual depictions allow patients to see their achievements at a glance and plan future activities. 

For users of healthcare apps, seeing the tangible results of their progress is a strong motivational force. 

gamification in healthcare

Real-Life Applications of Gamification in Healthcare

Gamification in healthcare is a tested and proven strategy to entice and encourage patients to be more active participants in their own healthcare experience. Different apps focus on different aspects of a patient’s overall health, such as physical fitness, mental wellness, medication management, and others.  

Let’s review some current examples of this technological trend for inspiration. 

Fitbit

Fitbit is one of the best-known health and fitness apps with a primary objective of tracking fitness activity. It offers over 100 badges to users to celebrate their achievements, capitalizing on the power of incentives and rewards. 

Fitbit embeds many opportunities to earn badges and collect progress data, delivering that all-important dopamine rush and moving wearers toward improved health habits.  

Not only can patients count their daily steps, but they can also take part in imaginative virtual challenges. These include scenarios such as exploring an imaginary forest with hidden trails. 

Other features include:  

  • Monitoring heart rate, oxygen, and sleep  
  • Counting calories burned  
  • Tracking stress response  
  • Targeting goals 

A review of Fitbit-based interventions and their role in healthy lifestyle outcomes concluded that Fitbit devices offered many intervention opportunities. One of the top benefits was enhanced physical activity. The study also highlighted goal setting as the most significant factor in improving outcomes. 

MyTherapy

MyTherapy offers a free medication manager and pill reminder app. Customizable reminders prompt patients to take their medication on time. The app also provides pattern and progress trackers to help establish treatment efficacy. 

Other features of MyTherapy include refill alerts and small daily rewards for completing medication prompts. This use of gamification tools enables medication management and progress tracking and instills a sense of achievement. 

Happify

Happify is designed to improve mental health and well-being by offering activities, games, and challenges based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. It incorporates CBT’s proven track record in aiding emotional health issues to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Its techniques help individuals break from negative thought loops and detrimental behaviors. 

This clever melding of evidence-based practice and gamification techniques offers a unique opportunity for patients to improve their mental well-being and allows them to track their happiness scores. Happify states that 86% of regular users of the app become happier in just two months. 

mySugr

The mySugr app targets patients living with diabetes. It provides a space for users to log a wealth of data to help them better understand their condition. 

Patients are given badges and points for achieving healthy lifestyle benchmarks, and rewards are offered once they reach suitable glucose levels. Analytics features help users keep track of their health status. 

The Meal Photo feature allows users to post photos of their favorite meals and understand how dietary choices impact their diabetes. 

Analysis by mySugr found a number of benefits as a result of using the app, including: 

  • An average reduction of blood glucose of more than 4% 
  • A significant and sustainable improvement in blood glucose control 
  • An average reduction in LBGI (low blood glucose index) by 17.4% after six months 
Interactive healthcare app with game mechanics

Future of Gamified Healthcare Solutions

Gamification healthcare solutions have a bright future. Global Market Insights predicts the sector will experience a compound annual growth rate of 10.5% between 2023 and 2032. 

With this in mind, let’s summarize some key elements of successful gamification projects. 

Rewards

Earning rewards is one of the key drivers behind the success of healthcare apps. Rewarding desirable behaviors is integral to inspiring users to care for their health and aim for increasingly higher goals. 

Avatars

Avatars are characters used to represent the user within the healthcare app. They help personalize the experience and make it more relatable to real life. Avatars have been shown to be especially useful in apps designed for children, but they work just as well for adults.

Multi-level Winning

Multiple levels of winning encourage users to aim for bigger and more ambitious goals in an achievable way. Smaller, more attainable steps simplify the overarching goal of the app and create an approachable path to success. Offering incremental levels helps users experience a sense of continuous and steady improvement. 

Valuable Content

Striking the right balance between providing a fun experience and offering insightful information is crucial. Apps like Prehab manage this balance well, helping users track their health journey while offering educational facts about their health concerns. 

Social Interaction

Shared experiences and social interaction are important elements of healthcare apps, helping to keep users engaged and motivated. Interacting on in-app community forums and comparing statistics are two ways to achieve this. 

Keep It Simple

A “keep it simple” approach is more likely to appeal to a wider range of patients. A clean interface, easy-to-understand instructions, and relevant content are three key elements of this back-to-basics strategy. 

If rules and steps become too complicated and time-intensive to complete, patients are more likely to abandon the app altogether. 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS: Exploring Upcoming Trends and Technologies in EHRs 

Top Takeaway Tips for Gamification in Healthcare

Work with gamification strategies to stay competitive. Your patients may not view gamified healthcare apps as legitimate avenues to improve their wellness. However, educating them and providing recommendations can go a long way toward adoption and help enhance your patient experience. 

 Explore these tips for immediate action: 

  • Download a few healthcare apps. Check out some existing healthcare apps and discover their features. Experiencing the interface and features for yourself will give you a feel for the tools and format that might work for your patients. 
  • Network with colleagues. Ask your colleagues if they are already recommending healthcare apps. Find out which ones they prefer and why as a quick and easy way to further your own research. 
  • Get to know your patients’ goals. Ask your patients about their healthcare goals and what would motivate them—for example, rewards or educational insights. Their answers will help you devise the right kind of activities to help them fulfill their aims in coordination with your treatment plans. 
  • Check out trending games and apps. Do some research into games and apps that are trending now. They don’t have to be healthcare-themed. You can get some insight into which features make them popular if you’re considering developing your own healthcare app. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Do You Know How to Increase Patient Satisfaction? 

About the Author

Kelsey Zaporowski

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