Online Games to Promote Wellness? Innovative Health Promotion Through Gamification

Innovative healthcare harnessing digital media can provide a unique way to reach and engage populations at risk of injury and/or poorer health status. Long work hours and the physical demands of manual trade work, is but one example of  the stress faced by many people in our society. With this can come less time for proper care of one’s own health, i.e. time for exercise, good eating habits, rest and  self-management of injuries. In light of this, public health messages and health promotion can utilise different channels to reach their target audience. How can we engage and assist the public (and our patients) by going ‘to them’ on ‘their terms?’

Many of us are familiar with advances in mobile health – social media, mobile apps and wearable devices (to name a few). Healthcare has been able to utilise these technologies to deliver a range of treatments and health messages. However, how familiar are you with the use of ‘gaming’ as a health management tool? The addition of gaming features to an interactive modality is otherwise known as ‘gamification’. For example, inclusion of points, scoring, bonuses, levels, tasks and rewards. The idea behind gamification is that by including the essence of a game into the tool (i.e. enjoyment, strategy, competition and challenge), it will lead to engagement, participation and hopefully carry over to real world behaviours, thus improving well-being [1].

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised with the release of “Pain Breaker” (a game) by the Australian Physiotherapy Association, in conjunction with Steel Blue. It is part of their Tradies National Health Month initiative to promote wellness for our manual trade industry workers or “tradies” here in Australia. To bring this idea to life, they worked with digital and marketing agency, DO Consulting to come up with an innovative way to reach tradies to educate them on healthy behaviours to improve overall well-being and injury risk education…..”Pain Breaker” the game was the result.

Laura Qureshi is one of the directors of “DO”. I asked Laura what the purpose of delving into the gaming space was. Laura recounts, “together with the APA we really wanted to highlight the messages of healthy, good decision making and not ignoring the pain to tradies”. Interactive media likes games to promote health are designed in such a way to prompt participants to think about their health and health behaviours. As Laura says, it gets the audience “thinking about their health choices in a less intensive way”. We believe through repetitive play and the desire to beat ‘their highest score’ will get tradies receiving the health messages and benefit of healthy choices”. Next was to look at why a game was chosen over other interactive ideas. Among the many avenues that the project could have gone in, a “game get mass engagement and also utilise the profile of the ambassadors for the game – Dave Hughes and Kyal and Kara”, says Laura. Utilising well-known figure heads to promote an initiative like a game, enables the health organisation to connect with and relate to the their target demographic.

Through “Pain Breaker”, we have seen the interesting possibilities available to engage people in their health self-management. Research in this space shows that engaging people in health through more tailored and interactive means can be a positive way to generate health outcomes and also decrease attrition in health interventions. In today’s world of smartphones and mobile technology, it’s fresh and proactive to ponder new ways to engage people. As Laura described, “sometimes people get tired of being spoken to and constantly forced information”. Those interested in supplementing healthcare and positive health messages with engaging technologies would be wise to consider this trend towards mobile health technology. As more people turn to smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, we would be well advised to ensure that interventions and messages are suited to delivery using these devices. For example, gamification of health messages delivered via a mobile app.

Have you played Pain Breaker? What do you think? Or, have you come across other examples of gamification for health you can share with us?

Mark Merolli, illorem


Image: Courtesy of Do Consulting


1. The Engagement Economy. How Gamification is Reshaping Business. Deloitte Review (2014)

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