Level up: How the gamification revolution affects healthcare

Usually, patients don't want to fool around when it comes to their health, but what if games were just what the doctor ordered?

Gamification, turning everyday operations into incentive-based activities, has become a worldwide phenomenon, permeating businesses across all industries. Now, it's healthcare's turn to get a piece of the action. But with patients' well-being on the line, can healthcare gamification really deliver the kinds of results traditional medicine has provided for centuries? Here are just a few examples of what injecting a little fun into medicine can do.

"Gamification can actually help patients handle more of their own treatment themselves."

Stimulate brain function in dementia patients
Ultimately, there is precious little available to patients who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia besides heavy medication and a slow, inevitable digression of mental faculties. Thankfully, healthcare professionals and scientists have yet to exhaust every channel to combat this tragic ailment. Many have researched theories behind games as a form of strengthening exercises for the mind with surprisingly positive results.

However, one study published in the International Journal of Serious Games found gamification also had the potential to improve another aspect of this disease rarely considered: its impact on the family of the afflicted. According to the organization's research, gamification can actually help patients handle more of their own treatment themselves by incorporating games into their daily medical regimen, thus relieving family members charged with at-home care. Games as a method for organizing appointments and the intake of medicine remove some of the stressors from the children or grandchildren who would otherwise manage these things.

Video games can boost a doctor's surgical prowess in the real world.Video games can boost a doctor's surgical prowess in the real world.

Train doctors and improve surgical motor skills
Have no fear: Doctors will still need much more than a high score to practice medicine. But textbooks and even on-site training can't completely prepare doctors to perform admirably under pressure and in any scenario. One facet of healthcare gamification looks to provide doctors and surgeons with a virtual environment to test their wits without compromising a patient's health. However, games can work wonders for these professionals outside the hospital or clinic. Traditional, recreational video games proved to have an uncanny effect on certain doctors' abilities to perform their duties at work.

Another study conducted by Beth Israel Medical Center's Department of Surgery found laparoscopic surgeons received a power-up from playing more than three hours of video games a week. Past gamers had 37 percent fewer surgical errors and spent 27 percent less time with patients under the knife. In gaming, mental acuity and sharpening motor skills come with the territory, but while gamers might not utilize these advantages beyond the sofa, healthcare professionals can use them to keep patients safe, decrease hospital or clinic expenses, save resources and grow as caregivers.

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