Got game? 4 ways gamification assists clinical trials

Multiple industries are taking a cue from the video gaming industry, using people’s competitive natures to incorporate gamification into their products and services.

Using a cocktail of psychology and technology, the method takes game design elements and techniques and applies them to challenges in education, business, design, human resources and many other segments, primarily to teach or motivate people. It’s proving particularly effective with millennials, who practically grew up with video game controllers in their hands.

The gamification market is expected to hit $5.5 billion in 2018, and it’s beginning to make inroads into the world of clinical trials, where it’s increasingly being applied for patient engagement, to encourage behavior change — even for diagnosis and recruitment.

“Gamification works because our response to games is deeply hard-wired into our psychology,” explains Kevin Werbach on “Game design techniques can activate our innate desires to recognize patterns, solve puzzles, master challenges, collaborate with others and be in the driver’s seat when experiencing the world around us. They also can create a safer space for experimentation and learning.”

Some ways in which the methodology is helping with clinical trials include:

  1. Patient engagement and behavioral change: Techniques like online games and wearable healthcare monitors are helping patients comply with study guidelines and improve their overall health by continually measuring whether they’re meeting goals. The ubiquitous FitBits are one example of the methodology at work; the bracelets or clothespin-sized digital units track the wearer’s number of steps, distance traversed and calories burned, among other metrics, to document his daily progress and motivate him to meet certain numerical goals. One recent study also found gamification efforts led to a 54 percent increase in prescription-fill rates among patients. “Not surprisingly, health insurance companies are beginning to make investments in gamification for this purpose,” notes Rahlyn Gossen in
  2. Patient recruitment: The healthcare world is increasingly using gaming methods to connect with those with illnesses, including potential future trialists. For example, the mustache-growing competitions at the end of the year now celebrated during “Movember” were initially founded to build awareness of prostate cancer and other cancers commonly found in men. Similar movements, events or games could be used to great effect to help draw out other kinds of patients needed for trials.  
  3. Patient diagnosis: In some cases games are actually identifying neurological disease in patients who might be trial candidates. For example, Centerwatch reports that Pfizer recently invested in a video game called “Evo Challenge” that helps identify early signs of Alzheimer’s in players, automatically adapting challenges according to the user’s level of play. Pfizer plans to use the game to assess and select clinical trial participants, but studies suggest older people and patients with ADHD can also improve brain performance and neural activity by playing such games. The New York Times says the Evo Challenge could become “a sort of cognitive Lipitor or Viagra your doctor might prescribe for your aging mind.”
  4. Scientific discovery and research: An online puzzle called Foldit challenges users in such tasks as the design of new protein structures, Gossen writes. She also mentioned a recently invented game allowing volunteers to help count the number of parasites in digitized blood sample images as a research project; in a month, players in 95 countries played more than 12,000 games, yielding a 99 percent accuracy rate.

It’s likely that many uses for the methodology have yet to be discovered.

“For use in clinical trials, we are still at the dawn,” said Jim Gearhart on news site “A lot of people seem to be saying there is great potential to these games in clinical trials… but there is still a way to go, including validation and acceptance.” 

Contact Artcraft Health for information about other modern marketing methods in the healthcare industry.