General Health Friday May 11, 2012

Is there room for gamification in medicine and healthcare?

Everyone loves a good game. From the timeless classics, such as a round of Monopoly shared with the family, to the absorbing isolation of playing Angry Birds on a mobile phone, games permeate and reflect every part of life. Almost everything imaginable has been "gamified" at some stage or another, with football stadiums, battlefields and even operating rooms open to everyone in a constructed world.

As technology continues to evolve and innovate, more and more industries are beginning to turn to gaming as a way of engaging new audiences in a different way. While traditionally games have been associated more with frivolous fun than with any kind of serious objective, new developments have demonstrated that there can also be a role for games in the realm of science, the environment and even healthcare.

crowdsourcing malaria game

A recent example of how gaming can be beneficial to the healthcare industry comes from the United States, where researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have created a game that could prove to be highly valuable to the malaria diagnosis process in sub-Saharan Africa. The crowdsourcing game is free to play online and is specifically designed to aid doctors in areas of the world where the time-consuming process of diagnosis is a particular hindrance. Crowdsourcing is simply a term that is used when a task that is normally performed by a single person is carried out by a group of people instead.

The game itself involves players viewing digital images of red blood cells, and using a syringe tool to attack the cells that are infected. Before they begin the game, players will view an online tutorial so they are able to distinguish between a cell that is infected with malaria or not. The idea behind the game is that large groups of people, even those who are not experts, can learn to accurately recognise when cells are infected. Those that have played the game so far – mainly volunteers from the university - have been accurate to within 1.25% in comparison to a pathologist.

operation game

Just imagine the possibilities if this kind of crowdsourcing technology could be utilised in other areas of healthcare and medicine. In addition to diagnostic opportunities, games could be used to raise awareness of certain conditions or help to educate people about illnesses which may be less well known or particularly complex. Medicine and healthcare is a particularly insular world, seemingly accessible only to those who are either highly trained or experiencing misfortune. As games allow people to engage with subjects and materials from which they would otherwise be excluded, there are few industries in greater need of the benefits of new approaches for public engagement.

Games related to healthcare have come a long way from the buzzing jumpiness of Operation!, but just how far could they go? Would you play the kind of game described above? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

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