Health video games could change how we treat patients — but doctors still need to be convinced

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  • A growing number of startups are making health video games.
  • Video games can help treat conditions and obtain patient data.
  • But doubts about how well they work can deter doctors from using them.
  • This article is part of a series entitled “The Future of Healthcare,” which explores how technology is driving innovation in the development of healthcare.
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A new wave of startups are using video gaming to teach us how to treat mental and physical health conditions.

These games differ from virtual reality games in helping children with autism to learn life skills in mobile adventure games to monitor chronic eye conditions.

In June 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Akili Interactive’s ADHD treatment EndeavorRx as the first prescribed video game. In December, Novartis has signed To distribute your vision monitoring game globally with Tilak Healthcare.

In recent years, health game companies have raised millions of dollars to bring video game therapeutics to patients. The emerging field has the potential to help hard-to-reach patients stay engaged in their treatments and give physicians who determine the game access to enhanced data on their patients. However, questions still remain about how well the treatments work and whether medical professionals are willing to use them.

Vijay Raveendran, founder of the autism therapy VR game Florio, “The key is going to be hard research that shows that these games or experiences really do lead to real-world skill development and that they are worth the time that families spend with those experiences.” spend.” , Said.

Why video games may change how we treat conditions like anxiety

Most video games focus on medical mental and behavioral-health conditions.

Kelly Dunlop, a clinical psychologist, game designer, and assistant professor at American University, said video games lend themselves particularly well to treating conditions such as anxiety.

“Sports give us many, infinite opportunities to try something and try it again and then get feedback and try it again and get feedback,” Dunlop said. “And that kind of feedback loop isn’t something that’s inherent in real life. If you screw up in your daily life, you could be in trouble, and who knows when you might have the opportunity to try again. But in a game, you can’t really fail until you give up.”

The way video games help people learn lessons is especially useful for children.

Jason Kahn is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Meteor, a video game that helps children with emotional regulation. He described the way medical professionals typically try to talk to children through behavioral health treatments through psychotherapy, trying to teach someone how to ride a bike with lectures and then asking them to be able to ride. expect to be.

Video games provide an opportunity to teach these skills more naturally.

“What video games do is they give us this environment where it’s fun. So that’s a big advantage. Number one, like the kids want to be there, the motivations, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining,” Kahn said. . “But you also get to use the skills inside the video game.”

Games provide data that can help doctors

Video game therapeutics could also give clinicians access to more data on their patients.

Paris-based Tilak Healthcare has developed Odyssey, a mobile game that tracks changes in patients’ vision. Tilak has introduced Odyssey to ophthalmologists across France and is currently undergoing trials in the US.

Its founder, Edouard Gasser, said that the amount of data mobile vision can give to game providers is one of the most promising things about Odyssey. Although the average Odyssey user is about 72 years old, they have found that patients were able to engage with the game on a regular basis. Because of this association, OdySight is able to provide much more data to ophthalmologists than what is found from routine visits.

“With that in mind, it was a good story for us to say, ‘Listen, this is a video game, but the result is that we get very good engagement and retention rates,'” Gasser said. “So in the end, you get 10 to 15 times more medical data than in a routine health care procedure.”

keeping games attractive

Although video games hold a lot of promise within medical science, it is unclear whether they will be effective in the long run.

Daehong Lee, assistant professor of adapted physical education at the University of Minnesota Duluth, developed a mobile game, Puzzlewalk, to help people on the autism spectrum get more exercise.

their research On the effectiveness of the app it was found that after some time, the effects of the app subsided, which he says is expected.

Lee said this is a “novelty effect”.

People get fascinated by new technology, but if it doesn’t change, they eventually get bored. Video game therapeutics may face this challenge or they may fall prey to it. He pointed to Pokémon Go as an example.

“They get into these new interference devices, but after that, it gets tedious, so people get bored,” Lee said. “People need some kind of constantly changing new stimuli to be sustainable in terms of information, but the interventions available are fairly conservative.”

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