The Gamification of Healthcare May Boost Patient Adherence and Outcomes

Your smartwatch is inviting you to add a little competition to your workouts. You can earn badges for reaching milestones you’ve set for yourself or that are associated with group challenges you’ve joined. The watch beeps and buzzes during the day to congratulate you on closing your rings or to encourage you to push through and post a few more steps to hit your daily quota. Your health insurance company sends you an invite to connect with a health and wellness app they’ve created or partnered with. There are daily challenges and, again, plenty of alerts, competition, and virtual prizes for keeping up. Welcome to the gamification of healthcare.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is not exclusive to the healthcare industry. You may also hear the term used in the context of education and marketing among other applications. It entails applying game-design elements and principals to a non-game context. The goal is to engage users by providing them entertainment and reward for their participation.

Behavioral Changes

Gamification uses extrinsic and intrinsic rewards to motivate users to change their behaviors. Mobile health apps are well-suited to this approach. As alluded to in the intro above, this may entail earning digital prizes or competing with friends to reach daily (or other interval) fitness goals. It could be an app that lets you earn points for tracking healthy habits like water intake, calorie tracking, and fitness goals. Those points might be exchanged for prizes like a new reusable water bottle or a coupon for a discount on your next pair of running shoes. It could be a smoking cessation program that offers rewards for changing unhealthy behavior.

Patient Adherence

Gamification tactics may be used to encourage patient adherence. One example of this is the app created by Mango Health. Within the app, patients set a time when their medications should be taken, and the app reminds them. For complying, patients earn points that unlock the chance to earn gift cards or charitable donations in weekly raffles.

Physical Therapy

When an injury, illness, or surgery requires physical therapy, gamification tactics can help motivate patients and ensure exercises are performed properly. Programs like Reflexion Health, which can be used at home, compares a patient’s movement with digital models and then offers corrective guidance to ensure the patient is performing the prescribed motions properly. The program also tracks adherence. It provides practitioners data on what exercises patients are doing, and for how long. This can help improve the patient-provider partnership.


Similarly, patients needing cognitive rehab exercises can tap into the strengths of gamification. People recovering from a stroke or brain injury may use healthcare-specific applications that feature virtual reality, brain imaging, and gaming tech to retrain the brain. Similar programs can be used for patients dealing with related medical challenges that require them to adapt the mind-body connection to a new norm.


Gamification is a natural fit for training individuals throughout the healthcare continuum. AstraZeneca’s “Go to Jupiter” is a game-based learning solution designed to teach the pharmaceutical company’s reps about their new products. Roughly 97% of the 500 agents invited to experiment with the app used it. They not only used the app, but they did so outside of their work time and completed each teaching session. Similar tools are used to teach patients of all ages about their medical conditions and how they may be treated. For example, Monster Manor is a free game helps teach children with Type 1 diabetes how to manage their disease, and it encourages adherence to treatment.

Not Tomorrow, Today

According to a 2017 report by PwC, about 63% of employer-sponsored wellness programs included some type of gamification. An additional 24% indicated interest in developing such programs. This shouldn’t be a surprise. While more research is needed, a systematic review of 21 papers on the subject found that there is evidence that gamification in health and wellbeing can have a positive impact, particularly in terms of behavior modification.

Jim Jordan
President and CEO
The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse

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