The way to a nurse’s heart is through chocolate. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Next Halloween drop your excess bags of candy off at the nearest nurses’ station and see what happens. You’ll probably be reminded of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. And we’re not particular. Three pounds of M & M’s is just as good as a box of Godiva.
Chocolate is also the way to get nurses to use HIT. At least it worked pretty well when I was working at the bedside. When we converted from a manual medication cart to the electronic Pyxis system, the pharmacists loaded the machine with different types of chocolate to motivate the RN staff to practice using it before it went live. It was genius as well as delicious and fun. And it worked. When the Pyxis went live, we were all comfortable with the machine, though perhaps a little sad that it gave out Tylenol and not Snickers.
The reason it worked was pretty Pavlovian (ring bell, get food; open drawer, get chocolate). We were being rewarded for a desired behavior. The fact that people, not just dogs, can be trained to give a conditioned response is the concept behind the trend known as gamification.
According to gamification.org, gamification is applying game design to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. There seem to be two camps out there regarding gamification. One thinks gamification is the wave of the future and will be used increase user engagement in all types of industries and settings. The others say gamification is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. However, there are a few skeptics who have come around to finding gamification useful.
Take HL7 Standards’ own Chad Johnson. In March he wrote about his experience with the fitness app Gorilla Workout. When Chad and I were discussing the topic of gamification, he pointed out that the Gorilla Workout is an example of gamification since it rewards your behavior by allowing you to move up “levels.”
I’ve noticed that gamification of fitness apps is pretty popular. But there are also ways healthcare providers can use gamified applications for both themselves and their patients. No matter where you stand on gamification, I’m sure you’ll find some of the following examples interesting:
Sepsis can be a deadly and costly diagnosis. Each year some 258,000 Americans die of sepsis and $17 billion annually is spent treating the condition. Stanford University’s app Septris is aimed at training healthcare providers to better recognize and treat patients with sepsis. Users try to save virtual patients (based on real life case scenarios) whose health status is declining. As they become more ill, patients move toward the bottom of the screen. Patients who improve move up the screen. Reaching either screen limit will results either in death or discharge.
Compassion fatigue can happen when healthcare providers neglect self-care because they are so consumed by caring for others. As a result of suppressing their emotions, those suffering compassion fatigue (also called burnout) can experience feelings of apathy and isolation.
While they aren’t apps, video games by Wild Divine are gamified ways for healthcare workers to cope with stress. Rather using a typical video game controller to complete tasks, players wear sensors on their fingers and induce the relaxation response to juggling balls or open doors.
Healthper is a social network for those looking for support achieving wellness goals. Users set health goals and complete tasks to help meet them. When they finish a task, they can get rewards and increase their Healthper Score. A higher scores raise users’ community status, which allows them to join challenges or mentor other members. Think Farmville but instead of getting points for growing virtual vegetables, you get points for eating actual ones.
Patients aren’t the only ones who smoke; healthcare providers do too. Lit, a smoking reduction game currently under development by a team of Columbia University researchers, is intended to be a substitute for cigarettes. To satisfy nicotine cravings, players use breath control, color, sound and challenges to mimic smoking’s stimulant and relaxant effects. Players can choose from “Rush Mode” or “Relax Mode.”
The development team is collecting data on players’ emotional and physiological responses to the game through EEG, heart rate and galvanic skin response measurements. They hope to determine whether the game truly mimics the effects of smoking.
Medication compliance hinges on patients understanding how to correctly take their medications. With this in mind, the UK’s Cambridge Consultants have designed an inhaler training device called the T-Haler. Patients use a wireless training inhaler linked to interactive software to track the three parts of correct inhaler use – shaking, actuation (pressing down the medication into the inhaler) and inhalation. If all three steps are performed correctly, a ball on screen rolls down a hole in the middle of a tic-tac-toe board. The game gives patients feedback on areas needing improvement. According to the company, T-Haler training increased patients’ correct use of inhalers from 20% to 60%.
There are more gamified health applications that I didn’t mention, and I’m sure there are many more to come. I hope developers will follow the team at Columbia’s lead and collect data on the effectiveness and useability of their creations.