Life is a game, and sometimes we need help to play it. Gaming from a secret teenage hobby have become a huge part of many industries including wellness and healthcare.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rapid growth in the number of wearables, fitness and nutrition apps as well as fun tools for our daily routine (such as “smart tooth brushes” connected to smartphones with games and competitions).
Even more dramatic effect gamification is playing in the healthcare industry, where doctors very often deal with depressed and unmotivated patients. Keeping them engaged through games and an easy user interface can make a difference in helping millions of people to get their lives back. Here are several examples of new gaming products for stroke, asthma and autism patients.
Rapael Smart Glove designed by a Korean technology startup Neofect is a wearable bio-feedback training device that helps stroke victims regain movement through repeat hand and arm movements in a virtual reality-type setting. It features an ergonomic design for different hand sizes, light weight, intuitive setup, and a Bluetooth connection to a computer program which offers a set of games based on the patient’s goals. Rapael’s software analyzes the data from built-in sensors and updates suggested games.
The device has been successfully employed by a number of major hospitals in South Korea since December of 2014, and approved for use in the US and Europe. In December of 2015, Neofect opened an office in California and this year, it is introducing a consumer version for use at home, which will be available for rent at $99 per month.
Israeli startup iFeel Labs has designed a therapy tool that helps people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) improve their breathing technique and lung function while playing a variety of popular games like Candy Crush. The FDA and CE approved wearable sensor tracks users' pulse in real time, while the games challenge and teach them to synchronize their heart with their lungs to improve breathing using the Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback (HRVB) technique.
The breathing physiotherapy taught by the app helps relax the breathing muscles which, in turn, can ease an asthma attack. The app guides them through the cardiorespiratory feedback training, telling them exactly when to inhale and exhale, and players can only progress in the game when they are breathing properly.
French startup Blue Frog Robotics has introduced Buddy, the personal robot which will use Auticiel’s apps to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other special needs learn to communicate, interact with others, and be more autonomous. Buddy plays games, displays videos on its face, tells stories and suggests simple exercises. One of the best things about Buddy: it has infinite patience, and will do things over and over, never getting upset or tired. Once the task is completed, Buddy dances and congratulates the child. Plans, videos, timers and pictures can be customized by the users.
The robot, priced at $649, is expected to ship this fall. Customers will receive a free, one-year subscription to the Auticiel Cloud services, which will monitor and track the use of the apps through statistics and deliver exclusive, new content.
Gamification is not a new trend in the healthcare industry. It has been employed by a number of research labs and hospitals for many years. For example, the University of Washington and Harborview Burn Center used immersive virtual reality to help burn victims cope with pain 20 years ago.
But recent innovations in robotics, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and sensor technologies have moved games from research labs into the enterprise and consumer markets. Insurance companies actively promote games for health education, wellness tracking and physical therapy. Some companies use game platforms such as Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit to help patients manage their chronic illnesses, for example, diabetes. Several studies revealed that surgeons who regularly played video games were significantly better at performing surgical procedures.
The healthcare industry is increasingly looking for ways to influence the behaviors of the patients because improvements in the individual’s health largely depend on their willingness to participate in the process. Gamification motivates patients to continue with healthcare regime by creating more enjoyable experiences and encouraging positive attitude. At the same time, it allows doctors to monitor the progress in real time and create customized programs for each patient. So, gaming industry will continue to merge with the healthcare, and we are going to benefit from this progress.