Jim Gearhart

by Jim Gearhart

Gamification & Clinical Research: Some Serious Fun

This is the first in a series of three blogs in a series about gamification in clinical research.

In a number of blogs, we’ve looked at ways we might improve communication about clinical trials: We have seen how the FDA and the NIH encourage us to improve informed consent. We have considered how mobile and portable devices might affect clinical research. Last week, we reported on how animated shorts online can share scientific knowledge.

So what other tools might be out there? How about video games?

Many of us might consider video games as little more than diversions; others see them as opportunities. The idea of applying game design to projects in the workplace – a concept known as gamification – has produced some intriguing results in health care and research. The industrious bloggers and thinkers at Lilly Clinical Open Innovation (Lilly COI) have been following the possibilities of gamification for a while. One of their posts includes an interview with game design thinker Professor Kevin Werbach.

gamingFor Werbach, gamification’s potential comes from “finding the fun in what you have to do.” Gamification aims to increase engagement in a task or knowledge about a subject by appealing to our basic curiosity, our response to challenges, and our sense of fun. “We’re all gamers,” Werbach said. His definition of a game expands beyond video versions to include any experience with rules, an objective, and – maybe most importantly – an outcome that is important to the player. Werbach used an example from Microsoft to show gamification’s potential. According to Werbach, Microsoft utilized game design to inspire its global workforce to help double-check more than 500,000 “Are you sure you want to continue?”-type dialog boxes in dozens of languages.

Here are a few examples of how gamification is finding fun in health care and research.

Medical Devices, Now with Game Mode

Device company Avacen boasts that it has the first medical device with an “internal game mode.” Game Mode on the AVACEN 100 enlivens an arthritis therapy session by awarding points for accurate use; tracking high scores; and flashing performance-based comments from “Super! That’s how it’s done” to “Yay! You got the new low score!”

At the Orthodontist: Arrive on Time, “Like” your Orthodontist, Earn Points and Prizes

A local orthodontist runs a points reward system. Throughout treatment, patients receive points like frequent flyer miles and can use them in online for prizes. Punctuality earns extra points, as do referrals and Likes on Facebook. This past week, the office held a Halloween-candy-for-points exchange.

Clinical Trial Simulator GameClini-Trial: Can We Discover How to Fly?

A London healthcare center developed a video game to introduce the ideas of clinical trials. In Clini-Trial, a volunteer signs up to test a drug that might make people fly. The game guides the volunteer through the clinical trial basics of screening, randomization, and participation. The deliberately low-resolution graphics recall early video games such as Mario Brothers.

Destination Discovery: What Does it Take to Approve a Medicine?

Lilly COI tries its hand at gamification with Destination Discovery. This virtual board game aims to share the value of medical research and the complexities of discovery.

Foldit: Solve a Puzzle, Inspire Research

Foldit provides a series of complex three-dimensional puzzles for a player to solve. The difference is that these puzzles reflect the structures of proteins, and solving them can provide inspiration for exploring medical solutions. The program’s creator found that with Foldit gamers could produce possible solutions faster and with more variety than did computer simulations.

The Paper Kingdom: Face Your Fears, Defeat a Dragon

The Paper Kingdom aims to reassure children and adolescents about participating in a clinical trial. The interactive mystery game has a fantasy theme, where an adventurer dispatches monochromatic baddies with infusions of color; dispels myths about clinical trials; and confronts a dragon.

Check back soon for related blogs, where I test my puzzle-solving skills in Foldit, and my kids and I pursue adventure in the Paper Kingdom.

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