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Gamification is when the concepts of game design are used to encourage and motivate people. It's currently producing some interesting results in the health and fitness field.
Let's take a look at some examples of great apps, sites and software that are already making changes to the way patients engage with their health.
Students at Imperial College have created a game that encourages smokers to quit. It's called Quit Genius and uses medical elements such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to personalise the experience with challenges, messages and incentives. The creators say it changes the way quitters think about smoking and helps them to stay committed.
Other games are on the health case too. An app by Mango Health reminds people to take their medication and awards a point when it's done successfully. Long-term success means they are rewarded with gift vouchers for Gap or Target.
Respond Well have created software that uses motion detection technology to help patients perform their physical therapy after a hospital procedure.
Health apps for children are big news too. Cohero Health offers an app called Asthma Hero that helps children stay on target. It works with a sensor that tells the app when medication was last inhaled and if it was done properly. Lots of gaming companies offer health-related, child-friendly games now, from food choices through to brushing teeth.
Some apps support intervention tactics, such as suicide prevention apps. An NHS mental trust is working with Stamford University to develop an app that monitors behaviours such as social media usage and travel to suicide hotspots.
Dr David Fearnley, medical director at Merseycare, says "This is an opportunity to exploit technology in a way we've never been able to before in health, by providing very powerful, decision-making, statistical support to clinicians in real time for the people who are most at risk'.
There were 6,122 suicides in the UK in 2014. If this app can bring down that statistic then surely it's of huge benefit to society?
Because it's enjoyable, interactive and builds upon something a lot of people already do.
A good many of us are glued to our phones, so it's a great way for health to 'sneak under the radar' of our avoidance tactics. Dieting and exercise are important. We're told on a frequent basis that we're not good enough at it, and studies show we're getting fatter and unhealthier as a nation. Health gamification is a fun way to improve our attitudes to health and our role in taking responsibility for ourselves.
On a basic level, rewards and positive feedback from health apps gives people a boost, and it's thought that this is why people continue to use them. Praise someone and they will continue to work hard.
Increasingly, we are turning to technology to support our health, and this is not likely to change any time soon. Gamification is quite literally a game-changer. In the past 'gamers' were viewed as unhealthy individuals, sitting in front of the screen all day with no fresh air or exercise, but health tech is heading away from that image. Now it may well be that the gamers are the healthy ones.