Video Games and Mobile Tech Make Healthcare Easier
By Jessica Oaks, Freelance Journalist
Gamification is one of the hottest buzzwords in schools and in the workplace, so why not in the doctor’s office, too? It turns out the tech and apps driving the mobile industry’s exponential growth are also advancing the healthcare industry in positive ways. Part of this emerging market for mobile is being driven by changes in technology. For instance, devices and programs that are legitimately useful in the healthcare space have gotten less expensive.
As advanced mobile device technology from companies like Snapdragon is becoming standard issue in new tablets and smartphones, healthcare professionals are looking for ways to tap into the devices the majority of us – including seniors, most of whom describe smartphones as freeing or connecting – already own.
Games are a natural point of focus because it’s already well known that gaming is good for the brain. A 2014 study found that fast-paced action games could promote better learning and data retention. A German study showed that people who played video games for 30 minutes a day actually gained gray matter in the areas of the brain responsible for forming memories, special navigation, keeping motor skills sharp and planning. Other research has replicated these findings in both school age and elderly participants.
Some hospitals are using these findings to help patients. Children’s National Health System in the District of Columbia piloted a program that used a game to help children with sickle cell disease manage and even fight the memory loss that can be a symptom of the disease. At the same time, the kids in the program became more engaged in their own care – which is something most healthcare professionals would like to encourage in patients across the board.
Now mobile games and devices are helping people, including seniors, manage their health more effectively. There are apps designed to facilitate patient recovery, promote healthy lifestyle choices like exercise and help people remember to take medications. On the consumer end of the scale, there are programs like the Pact mobile app by GymPact, which motivates users to follow through on exercise and diet commitments. And industry-wide, there are technology-in-healthcare initiatives happening around the globe.
One stand-out example is a partnership between IBM, Apple and Japan Post, which aims to put iPads in the hands of millions of senior citizens in Japan with the goal of improving both their health and their quality of life. An already-installed app on the tablets will remind patients to take their medications but more importantly, the devices themselves will give seniors the opportunity to keep in touch with faraway relatives, play brain boosting games and stay connected even when their ability to get out of the house is limited by illness.
The keys to successfully employing technology and games in the healthcare space will likely be training and follow up. It’s not enough to get devices into the hands of people and families – they need to be taught how to use the kinds of apps that are most helpful. While gaming is proving to be beneficial even for those players who prefer shoot-’em-ups to puzzle games, developers in the healthcare space are still trying to figure out how to best use technology to promote self-care, engagement among patients and improvements in memory, mood, balance, coordination and even eyesight!
Right now, most of the specialized healthcare apps out there are still in the initial testing phases of development. That said, anyone who wants to reap the benefits of mobile games and technology and is willing to take some initiative can do so. There may be a learning curve for some users but consider the survey linked above that showed that seniors found their smart devices empowering. For individuals, games and fitness challenge apps may be all it takes to inspire healthier choices. And for caregivers, tablets outfitted with social apps, medication reminders and more can be literal lifesavers.
About the Author
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