Carla reflects on the increased changes in healthcare practice due to COVID-19 and the opportunities this brings to digital health.
The rapid implementation of social distancing has had profound effects on the healthcare industry. A large proportion of GP appointments are now being carried out remotely and many clinical trials are moving to the virtual space. This shift in practice is providing opportunities for the digital health industry, which has been emerging over the last decade. One exciting segment of this industry is healthcare gamification; apps and technology which apply game elements and mechanics, to improve knowledge and change behaviours in health.
Gamification technology has shown multiple benefits and has been shown to promote positive behaviour change for different conditions including obesity, sexual health and medication adherence (Podina et al, 2017; Gabarron et al, 2013; Rahim et al, 2017). The success of gamification technologies for behavioural change is linked to their ability to motivate patients and improve knowledge and skills (capability), two key pillars required for behaviour change (Michie et al, 2011). Furthermore, due to the widespread uptake of video games, gamification provides patients with information and interventions in a highly recognisable and accepted format.
Our Glasgow-based company Game Doctor (this link will take you away from our website) has been exploring gamification technology since 2016. In collaboration with healthcare organisations and universities, we develop mobile games to educate and change behaviours for complex health topics. Previous projects include our recent collaboration with Public Health England (PHE), where we developed a suite of mobile games on vaccinations and sexual health. The games have been implemented in schools across Scotland and Gloucestershire and will be used by PHE for patient and public outreach.
To support the COVID-19 response, we are developing gaming technology for young people, to reduce anxiety and improve adherence to government guidance. The game will focus on vaccine and antivirial development and will include real research in collaboration with our partners at Queens Belfast University, University of Stirling, The Data Lab and University of Glasgow.
Backend analytics will measure players’ knowledge and behaviours towards COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. We aim to use this data, in collaboration with government data, to assess the impact of COVID-19 on young people. Through this work we also aim to further evidence the effectiveness of gamification technology for health education and behaviour change.
In the coming year, we anticipate increased uptake of gaming technologies in healthcare as patients react and adapt to reduced availability of traditional services. Despite the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, a shift in healthcare practices has the potential to have significant benefits on society. As more patients embrace technology, it is likely that we will see improvements in the nation’s health, and generation of new classes of health data. Unlike current methods for data collection, digital technologies are able to collect real-time data from immense numbers of patients, which often can predict future trends and behaviours. At Game Doctor, we aim to be at the forefront of this work through our gaming applications and analytics. By tracking real-time behaviours and attitudes of players, we aim to build an innovative dataset that can be used by NHS and government organisations for intervention development and capacity planning during COVID-19 and for future generations.