With 'serious games', the health sector has in its hands a useful means of transforming patient support.

[Doctors 2.0] Video Games Help Patients Take Responsibility for Their Own Health

For some years now we have seen the rise of collaborative research projects, to which individual people can contribute by using the processing power of their own devices. One example is the NanoDoc project, a ‘serious game’ devised by the Koch Institute at MIT, which works on integrative cancer research. The success of these ‘games’ in the medical sphere demonstrates that people find this approach attractive. Meanwhile there are now a growing number of mobile apps based on educational games designed to train medical personnel or to instruct and assist patients. Ellis Bartholomeus, a Dutch games designer who is about to launch a health video game for smartphones, told L’Atelier at the Doctors 2.0 & You event held in Paris on 5-6 June, that “people like playing games, and it makes perfect sense to harness this enthusiasm in the health field as well.”

Video games in the health field – more than just entertainment

While there are widespread concerns over young people being glued to their screens and losing their social skills, a number of studies have nevertheless come out in favour of applying games to the health field.  It is proven that such educational games can be of great assistance to a patient, helping him/her learn about and track his/her illness. The term ‘gamification’ as applied to the health sphere does not really refer to fun and games. “The idea of receiving a reward, of ‘levelling up’ in an online game, does not meet the need when it comes to designing health sector games. You have to take into account the way people need to take one step at a time with their illness,” explained Ellis Bartholomeus, adding: “Of course this isn’t like a medicine that’s going to actually make you better, but it is nevertheless a tool that can help you manage your life in relation to the illness from which you suffer.”

Playing at care actually help you to take responsibility

Ellis Bartholomeus has designed her game to incorporate sharing and discussion and is intended to form part of the overall medical treatment. It can be seen as an extension of group therapy, to counterbalance the fact that patients are sometimes left very much on their own between sessions. Bartholomeus sees the game playing a secondary role, the app providing “an extra for the patient over and above the benefit of being able to talk about his/her illness.” The Dutch game designer is however able to envisage a future where “games could to some extent replace treatment. This is about helping patients to change their mindset as regards their illness and becoming more pro-active. When a patient takes a decision to play a game using an app, s/he is demonstrating that s/he doesn’t intend to leave his/her fate in the hands of the doctors, but to take some personal responsibility.” Steffen Walz, a researcher who specialises in games, with whom L’Atelier met up in May, also shares the idea that video games could eventually to a certain extent replace medicines.

By Lucie Frontière