COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, novel type of coronavirus that was first detected in China in 2019. To reduce the spread of infection and flatten the curve, countries have adopted strict social distancing (SDI) policies, including home-working and closure of schools and businesses.
The rapid implementation of SDI has had profound effects on the healthcare industry. A large proportion of GP appointments are now being carried out remotely and many clinical trials are moving to the virtual space. This shift in practice is providing opportunities for the digital health industry, which has been emerging over the last decade. The digital health market, valued at $147 billion in 2019 (Health Europa), focuses on the integration of technology with healthcare systems, to improve patient experience and quality of health.
One exciting segment of the industry is the healthcare gamification market, valued at $19.2 million in 2018 and projected to grow with a CAGR 11.9% between 2020-2024 (Research Dive, 2019). Gamification is an excellent tool for healthcare as it allows patients to track and measure health, providing personalised feedback and rewarding content. Furthermore, it allows patients to access health content easily via personal devices.
Gamification technology has shown multiple benefits and has been shown to promote positive behaviour change for different conditions including obesity, sexual health and medication adherence (Podina et al, 2017; Gabarron et al, 2013; Rahim et al, 2017).
Our Glasgow-based company Game Doctor has been exploring gamification technology since 2016. In collaboration with healthcare organisations and universities, we develop bespoke mobile games to engage the public and change behaviours in science and healthcare. Our applications are supported by backend analytics that map players’ knowledge and behaviours in the specific healthcare topic, paving the way for a new class of healthcare data.
Previous projects include our recent collaboration with Public Health England, where we supported the development of a suite of mobile games to educate millennials on the importance of vaccinations and sexually transmitted infections. To support the COVID-19 strategy, we are collaborating with researchers at University of Stirling to develop a mobile game on COVID-19 for young people. The goal is to improve adherence to government guidance and reduce anxiety in players.
We anticipate increased uptake of gaming technologies in healthcare as patients react and adapt to reduced availability of traditional services. Health and wellbeing are likely to be a key focus of the public as we continue to fight coronavirus, and families will be looking for easy to use and accessible technologies that will keep them engaged and motivated.
However, barriers still exist to widespread uptake of gamification and digital health technologies. Recent research shows that only 13% of the public trust technology companies with sensitive health data (YouGov, 2019). Cost is also a barrier, with the majority of patients used to free NHS services and in some regions, free prescriptions. Partnerships between tech companies and NHS trusts will be critical for the implementation and uptake of digital health technologies.
Despite the challenges associated with COVID-19, a shift in healthcare practices may have significant benefits on society. As more patients embrace technology, it is likely that we will see improvements in the nation’s health, and generation of new classes of health data. Overall, this shift could see remarkable changes in the way we treat chronic and complex disorders such as mental illness, obesity and addiction. By providing patients with accessible and engaging content at their fingertips, we put patients at the centre of their own healthcare.
Gabarron, E., Schopf, T., Serrano, J.A., Fernández Luque, L. and Dorronzoro Zubiete, E., 2013. Gamification strategy on prevention of STDs for youth. In Medinfo2013: The 14th World Congress on Medical and Health Informatics (2013). MIA.
Podina, I.R., Fodor, L.A., Cosmoiu, A. and Boian, R., 2017. An evidence-based gamified mHealth intervention for overweight young adults with maladaptive eating habits: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 18(1), p.592.
Rahim, M.I.A. and Thomas, R.H., 2017. Gamification of medication adherence in epilepsy. Seizure, 52, pp.11-14.