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Gamification in Healthcare: Use Cases, Trends, and Challenges

Most patients need sustained attention to keep up with their recovery routines. Admittedly, no one enjoys getting reminders to take bitter pills or walk hundreds of steps daily. That’s why gamification in healthcare has drawn the attention of medical professionals and patients alike.

Adopting new health routines has become more enjoyable by diverting patients' attention to collecting points, earning badges, and interacting with other app users. Industry leaders are equally optimistic about the future healthcare gamification. Valued at $20.8 billion in 2022, the global market for gamified healthcare apps will continue to grow, possibly crossing $50 billion by 2030.

Gamification holds promise in positively impacting patient care delivery, increasing engagement, retaining healthcare app users, and delivering better business outcomes.  In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What healthcare gamification is and how it works.
  • How to apply gamification in healthcare apps.
  • Considerations when applying gamification to support healthcare deliveries.
  • Examples and trends to watch out for in the near future.

Let’s start.

gamification in healthcare

What is Gamification in Healthcare?

Gamification is a practice of encouraging behavioral change with elements commonly found in games. In healthcare, gamification supports therapies by encouraging positive behavioral responses among patients. Gamified apps reward patients for committing to specific goals, triggering a sense of achievement with badges, points, and other rewards.

Instead of being discouraged by rigid healthcare routines, gamification brings fun, enjoyment, and a learning-based fulfillment to patients and the broader audience. Fitbit, for example, encourages users to socialize, collaborate, and compete on their walking goals. After hitting a specific milestone, users can unlock the Serengeti badge, which they can proudly share with friends.

Types of Gamification in Healthcare

When gamifying healthcare apps, you can take two approaches:

  • Integrating gamified content.
  • Or build the healthcare journey around actual games.

The first approach encourages interaction in healthcare apps traditionally focused on medical routines. For example, a meditation app typically guides users through meditation scripts. But apps like Headspace turned meditation into a series of fun challenges and reward users for reinforcing positive learning. You can also include quizzes, surveys, and other content that users can interact with.

Meanwhile, the second approach uses games as a foundation and layers it with healthcare elements or messages. Consider EndeavorOTC, which looks no different than video games downloadable on the Apple App Store, except that it helps adults with ADHD improve their focus.

Learn more about custom healthcare services we provide!

What Are The Key Elements of Gamification?

What are gamification elements that separate successful healthcare apps from the pack? Gamifying your apps to encourage and sustain requirements requires a balance of gaming mechanics and dynamics.

gamification in healthcare

Gaming mechanics

These are tangible elements that keep users engaged on their journey. With gaming mechanics, users are rewarded in different ways when they hit specific goals and challenges. Drawing from behavioral science principles, apps incorporating these mechanics can empower users to change their habits over time.

  • Leaderboards. Leaderboards rank users according to milestones, points, or challenges they’ve completed. Seeing how they fare against other users invokes a sense of competitiveness. Naturally, this reinforces the behavior that they demonstrate and helps them to sustain positive practices.
  • Points and rating. Users are motivated when they can quantify their progress toward improving their health and lifestyle. Awarding points when completing specific tasks helps fuel their momentum. Some apps, like MyFitnessPal, visualize progress with graphs and charts.
  • Badges. Badges are tokens of recognition that users can proudly showcase with their friends. Usually, users receive badges when they’ve collected enough points, completed challenges, or participated in special events.
  • Levels and progress display. Similar to conventional games, these indicators mark the user’s progress in the app. They can also anticipate, plan, and implement their next moves to unlock subsequent levels. For example, the app requires users to complete basic yoga exercises to move on to the next level.

Gaming dynamics

Gamification is deeply rooted in behavioral science and involves invoking positive emotions with fun, learning, and interaction. Besides in-game mechanics, you should also consider how to build your healthcare app to promote better interaction. Like online games, users are more engaged when competing with other players.

So, consider these in-game dynamics when planning your app.

  • Competition. Encouraging users to engage in healthy competition can further strengthen their sense of achievement. Publishing top-rank users in the leaderboard is a way to foster competition and increase engagement. That said, be wary of using the strategy in apps designed for critical medical intervention, such as mental health and critical care, as doing so might lead to undesirable outcomes.
  • Collaborative actions. Teamplay is common in gaming, and applying such elements in healthcare apps increases engagement. For example, users can create or join groups sharing overlapping goals and work together to accomplish them. Instead of braving the journey alone, users feel better supported when collaborating with their peers.
  • Reinforced feedback. Users need feedback to learn if they’ve been practicing the right habits. More importantly, they depend on apps to unlearn improper habits that jeopardize their efforts. They use badges, visual indicators, charts, and reports to track their progress.
  • Rewards. Actions that get rewarded are repeated. And this holds when developing gamified healthcare apps. Whether awarding users with badges, digital tokens, or physical gifts, such moves help cultivate positive behaviors and drive users toward achieving their health goals.

Gamification in Healthcare Industry: 5 Use Cases

Healthcare companies have turned creative when applying gamification in their respective apps. These are several approaches you can consider.

gamification in healthcare

1. Use of mobile apps and wearable devices with game-like features

Wearable devices with heart rate monitors, step counters, and other sensors can collect data supporting gamification in healthcare apps. By augmenting gaming elements with external devices, patients can better understand how their physical routines affect scores, progress, or feedback they receive in the app.

You can also introduce personalized healthcare experiences by analyzing the data collected from individual users. Instead of applying similar benchmarks to all users, users can set customized goals relevant to their fitness condition, medical histories, and progress.

Want to learn more about Electronic Health Record (EHR) Integration?
Check our article!

2. Integration of VR and AR technologies

VR/AR provides an immersive experience that fosters better learning and action among patients. For example, patients undergoing weight management programs can receive instructions and monitor their workouts in the virtual world. Besides, immersing in an alternate reality also serves as a good distraction for patients struggling with chronic pain.

3. Use of social connections

Some successful apps grow beyond a standalone product into a blossoming community. That’s why fitness apps encourage users to share their results on social media. This way, they can connect with like-minded people and attract others to sign up for the app. Sweat, for example, lets users share the fitness challenges they completed on social media.

4. Integration ofe telecommunications and electronic information

The changing healthcare landscape influences how users consume information and interact with apps. Besides gracing their dashboards with badges and rewards, they need functional features like video calls, voice chats, and educational content to get better support. The mental health app we built is an example of that.

5. Development of simulation games

Simulations help physicians plan, visualize, and analyze medical procedures in a realistic environment before carrying them out in real life. Besides, doctors can also simulate scenarios to educate patients about their medical conditions and discuss possible interventions. Getting a clearer picture assures patients and also contributes to meaningful discussions.

Data Privacy Challenges in Gamifying Healthcare

Introducing gaming elements in healthcare apps raises concerns about data privacy as they must collect, store, and analyze sensitive data. Even without the gamified elements, most healthcare apps exchange large volumes of medical data across networks.

Without adequate protection, bad actors may attempt to breach, intercept, and steal health data the app uses. Equally worrying is the possibility of abusing patient’s data to influence or manipulate their treatment decisions. Both actions are illegal in most countries, which call for protective measures.

Addressing data privacy issues is a top priority if you wish to follow through with releasing gamified healthcare apps to tightly regulated markets. For a start, ensure that you comply with data privacy acts in various regions.

  • HIPAA requires all healthcare providers in the US to implement adequate measures for healthcare data stored in their facilities.
  • GPDR applies to medical providers operating in the EU and EEA regions. Patients must grant consent before apps can process health-related data.
  • PDPA is a legal framework that governs how various industries, including healthcare, share and manage personal data in Singapore.
  • My Health Records Act 2012 is a regulation that governs access to Australia’s residents' health data.
Expert tip: Here are the top 7 instruments you can use to ensure your product falls under all the HIPAA regulations.

If you choose to work with an app development agency, ensure they have experience building healthcare apps that comply with data privacy acts.

For example, Uptech has successfully launched HIPAA-compliance apps that safeguard users' privacy with encryption, multifactor authentication, and other security measures. From design to testing, we consider data movement and potential vulnerabilities at all possible points – and secure them.

3 Reasons Why To Use Gamification in Healthcare

Despite concerns about data privacy, gamification is still instrumental in benefiting medical practitioners and users alike. I don’t deny that developing gamified HIPAA-compliance apps is tough, but the benefits far outweigh the hassle.

Here’s why.

Healthcare gamification improves CTR

Healthcare providers often support their apps with learning-based content they hope users consume. Without motivation and a systematic approach, few users will engage with content designed to support their care experience. Gamification makes content engagement more intentional. For example, you can add a call to action like “play to win’, ‘test your knowledge’ or beat the high score" and lead users to quizzes, challenges, or simulations.

Gamification increases retention

Retention is a problem that most healthcare apps struggle with because disengaged users eventually lose interest. With gamification, you can improve engagement by distributing challenges, quests, or games over a longer period. This motivates users to interact with the app more frequently to progress and reduce churn. Moreover, users who complete their journey are more convinced of the app’s value, potentially becoming loyal ambassadors.

It reduces costs

Gamification helps healthcare providers on several fronts. By encouraging non-critical patients to complete their assigned tasks, medical providers can monitor their progress with minimum intervention. This reduces paperwork, clinic visits, and other administrative tasks. Healthcare providers can also use the app’s data to support patient follow-ups better and suggest personalized recommendations without developing a separate digital product.

Check out how you can reduce IT costs and come up with a great product!

Examples of Gamification in Healthcare

Several medical providers and healthcare solutions have taken the lead by introducing engaging gaming elements in their apps.

Manage My Pain

Manage My Pain is an interactive journal that helps patients better understand the factors that trigger their pain. By answering several questions, users can indicate their pain severity, body parts, and other prevalent symptoms. The app then consolidates the data and helps users analyze the contributing factors to their pain.

gamification in healthcare
Manage My Pain

More importantly, the app’s clever UI/UX design lets users add pain episodes in less than a minute. The broadly spaced questions, tap-on answers, and hints make navigating the app more effortless. Designed for iOS, Android, and web browsers, you can expect a consistent and engaging experience across different platforms.

CareClinic

CareClinic is a medical management app that balances medication tracking with nutrition, pain, sleep, and other physiological needs. Users can journal their routines, set personalized goals, track progress, and get reminders to take their pills. CareClinic integrates with Apple Health, Google Fit, and Siri to analyze data from wearables when suggesting treatment plans.

gamification in healthcare
CareClinic

Despite tracking a broad range of health indicators, CareClinic managed to keep its layout organized and uncluttered. It uses recognizable icons and typographies to aid users in viewing and interacting with the information they seek. For example, tapping on the ‘graph’ icon beside Symptom Check brings up a chart that helps users pin down possible triggers of symptoms they experience.

My Fitness Pal

MyFitnessPal counts your calories, so you don’t have to. It supports weight management by providing access to curated healthy recipes with lists of nutrition breakdowns. Users can personalize their goals, track progress, and plan meals with charts and nutritional insight with brightly-colored charts and explanations.

gamification in healthcare
My Fitness Pal

The brilliant thing is — it brings relevant resources that support your goal together. For example, you can choose a diet plan that helps you to sleep better. On top of that, the app shows you recipes, exercises, and instructions to cultivate better sleep habits. It also connects with dozens of wearables, including Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Google Fit.

Trends in Healthcare Gamification to Watch For in 2024

As demand for healthcare solutions grows, medical providers seek different ways to gamify and engage their users better. In my observation, these trends could shape gamification in healthcare in the coming months.

Trends in Healthcare Gamification in 2024

  • Generative AI platforms;
  • Multimodal LLM for clinicians;
  • Evidence-based digital therapeutics.
gamification in healthcare trends

Generative AI platforms

For the past couple of years, generative AI has dominated conversations in the tech industry and made its presence felt in healthcare. AI experts are developing ways for healthcare apps to integrate deep learning models to create safe and helpful AI chatbots.

Imagine chatbots that could guide users to make informed decisions that support their health goals. Besides that, you can also use generative AI to predict user behaviors from their past engagement and generate personalized, actionable plans.

gamification in healthcare

Multimodal LLM for clinicians

To date, large language model (LLM) for clinical applications has largely focused on text, visions, or speech processing in their respective form. AI experts are introducing multimodal LLMs that could seamlessly accept, analyze, and respond in any format. This spells good news for clinicians as multimodal language models open up the possibility of consolidating different AI tools they use on a single platform.

For example, physicians might use the same system powered by a multimodal LLM  to:

  • analyze imaging results.
  • record diagnoses.
  • prescribe medications.
  • manage patient appointments.

Evidence-based digital therapeutics

Another interesting development the medical community anticipates is the wider adoption of digital therapeutics (DTx). Unlike general wellness apps, DTx describes clinically proven digital solutions that clinicians can use to treat chronic diseases and other illnesses. For example, the FDA has approved a DTx that was proven effective in improving retention and abstinence in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. The DTX takes patients through courses and reinforces their learning with gifts and encouraging feedback.

Conclusion

Gamification in healthcare directly influences user engagement, retention, and effective care deliveries. Whether collecting points, sharing achievements, or forming new communities, gaming elements can positively impact patients’ behavior and reinforce their actions toward the desired goals.

Several prominent healthcare apps have integrated gaming elements to good effects. Users are impressed by the continuous interaction, personalized journey, and in-app rewards. As I pointed out, emerging technologies like generative AI could further influence these dynamics.

There’s no doubt what healthcare gamification can offer. Your challenge lies in safely integrating the gamified and staying compliant with data privacy acts. Partnering with experienced healthcare app developers like Uptech helps you navigate stringent requirements like HIPAA while ensuring product-market fit.

Let’s discuss how we can gamify your app.

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