Embargoed Until:
August 04, 2009
12:01 a.m. Eastern Time



Christopher Fleming

Health-Related Games: The Latest Tool In The Medical Care Arsenal

Bethesda, MD -- Gaming is the latest addition to the array of tools to improve health outcomes, Carleen Hawn says in an article published today on the Health Affairs Web site. http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.28.5.w842

While health-related games make up only a small part of the thriving overall video game market, the potential for further growth of health-related games is "immense," says Hawn, the cofounder and editor of Healthspottr.com in San Francisco. Venture capital firms are investing in health-related games, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has plowed $8.25 million in grant funding into the field since 2008.

Hawn describes a broad universe of health-related games. Some games promote exercise, such as the "Dancetown" game for seniors designed by a gaming company for the insurer Humana. Modeled on the "Dance Dance Revolution" game that has been popular with teens for over a decade, Dancetown made its debut in January 2009. According to anecdotal reports, seniors who play the game have lost weight and register fewer complaints about chronic conditions such as arthritis.

Other games use interactive simulations and narratives to help patients to better manage chronic conditions. Examples include the asthma education game "Quest for the Code" and "Packy and Marlon," designed to empower children with diabetes to better manage their glucose levels and become less socially isolated. "Clinical trials of the game have shown that children who play it with their friends are more open to talking about their disease, better able to seek social support for themselves, and more likely to adhere to their glucose-control regimens as a result," Hawn observes.

"Health game advocates believe that the games can play a critical role in filling the gaps in inadequate systems of public health or primary care," Hawn adds. For example, evidence suggests that physician conversations with patients about quitting smoking can be very effective, but time pressures often preclude such exchanges. A quit-smoking game could take the place of such a conversation.

Games may also translate into effective new forms of telemedicine, extending the reach of physicians, especially specialists in short supply, Hawn writes. She cites the example of Christine Aguilar, a pediatric physician with Kaiser Permanente who works with young patients suffering from conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord and head injuries. Unable to see all her patients in person, Aguilar recently began experimenting with Skype, a Web-based video phone service, and the Wii Fit to deliver remote physician therapy sessions. This strategy is still in the testing phase, but initial results have been positive, Hawn reports.

After the embargo lifts, you can read the article by Hawn at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.28.5.w842


Health Affairs, published by Project HOPE, is the leading journal of health policy. The peer-reviewed journal appears bimonthly in print with additional online-only papers published weekly as Health Affairs Web Exclusives at www.healthaffairs.org.


©2009 Project HOPE–The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.