Apps and games: health management tools for the future?


Game makers think that they can use game-like apps to motivate patients to stay on their meds. – Filepic

A group of ex-gaming industry executives say they can use their design chops to solve a major health challenge – making patients take their medication.

Jason Oberfest began thinking about applying game design tricks to complex medical problems in 2011. He built the app to engage users in their health, but he maintained some of the most viral aspects of mobile games, such as gifts and a feature to see how friends are faring in their treatment. The app also includes a drug database and sends refill alerts to patients.

Computer games are becoming important tools in helping people monitor their health. – Filepic

Drug adherence may not be sexy, but it’s a US$300 billion-a-year problem,” says Oberfest. An analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Americans are failing to comply with prescriptions and it is costing the US health system between billions annually. The study found that up to 50% of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed.

From smart pill bottles to phone apps, entrepreneurs have been experimenting for years with ways to motivate patients to take their meds.

Vancouver, Canada’s Ayogo Health draws tactics from game design by using points as indications of progress. One of its games, “Monster Manor”, is targeted to children with diabetes.

Omri Shor, chief executive of MediSafe, a medication management company, focuses on keeping patients on track by making them accountable to family-members.

Oberfest expects to see a spike in health apps in the wake of Apple Inc announcing its HealthKit service.

“No one has cracked the code, yet,” says Carla Brenner, a former consultant for pharma companies such as Eli Lilly and Gilead Sciences. But Brenner said drug companies are optimistic about these new phone apps. “Medication adherence is a big issue for pharma,” she says.

Game makers think that they can use game-like apps to motivate patients to stay on their meds. – Filepic

For game makers, entering health care means navigating privacy and regulatory requirements, as well as occasionally conflicting demands of payers, providers and pharmaceutical companies.

Moving forward, Oberfest will collaborate with drug makers, but he is “cautious” to take their money. The company is amassing information about health, but claims to meet the standards of America’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, meaning that personally identifiable health information isn’t shared with a covered entity, like a health provider.

Instead, Oberfest is reaching out to employers and hospitals to potentially sell them custom or premium versions.

But while game-like health apps may work with women, who make up the largest group of mobile gamers, and youth, they may fail to reach a majority of other patients says Skip Fleshman, a health investor at Asset Management Ventures.

“I doubt this would be effective for people who can’t afford to take drugs or suffer from side effects,” Fleshman says. – Reuters

Tech for health

Using computer games and phone apps as health tools are gaining a lot of attention these days. From teaching diabetic children using a specialised game to Apple’s healthkit and Ninja Warriors used for patient recovery, gaming and app technology has moved from entertainment to being medically useful.

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