Imagine a world where procrastination became a productive pastime…
Procrastination, as it stands, is a core feature of the ‘human condition’ and most would argue that it is here to stay. However, what if we could hijack the time we spend playing Candy Crush saga and trick ourselves into contributing towards something tangible. Today, I wish to explore this possibility with you.
The phrase ‘gamification’ is not a new or made up word (I promise) although I agree it does sound jarring and I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to use it in a game of scrabble (yet). The phrase itself refers to the process of applying game thinking and game mechanics to non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. For our purposes and for the purposes of this blog ‘problems’ will equate to promoting healthy living for our patients and maintaining our own medical education.
For one reason or another, most people show addictive behaviour towards games especially when they incorporate persistent elements of progression, achievement and competition with others. The underlying psychology won’t be discussed here; call it escapism, call it procrastination, call it whatever you will. What I want you to realise is that every day millions of people spend hours tending to virtual farms and cyber families whilst competing vigorously with ‘online’ friends. If we can take the addictive aspects of these popular games and incorporate them in to the non-game contexts I indicated to above, we could potentially trick ourselves, and even perhaps our patients, into a better way of life.
The first time I heard the phrase ‘gamification’ was only last year. I was in Paris attending the Doctors 2.0 conference listening to talks on how cutting edge technologies and the Internet had been (or were going to be) incorporated into healthcare. One example that stood out to me was a gaming app that intended to engage people with diabetes to record their blood sugars more regularly and also compete with themselves to achieve better sugar control.
People who have the condition of Diabetes Mellitus are continuously reminded of their diet and their blood sugar levels. I am not diabetic myself, but it is not hard to realise that diet and sugar control is going to be an absolute nightmare for people with diabetes both from a practical and psychological standpoint. Cue the mySugr Compainion, an FDA approved mobile application that was created to incorporate the achievement and progression aspects of game design to help encourage people with diabetes to achieve better sugar control. The app was a novel concept that struck a chord with me due to its potential to appeal to the part in everyone’s brain that makes them sit down and play ‘just one more level’ of their favorite game or app.
There are several other apps on the market that are games designed to encourage self testing of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. There is even a paediatric example titled; “Monster Manor,” which was launched by the popular Sanofi UK (who previously released the FDA / CE approved iBGStar iPhone blood glucose monitor).
So applying aspects of game design into disease management apps has anecdotally been shown to benefit young people with Diabetes. However, disease management is just one area where game-health apps have emerged. We are taught throughout medical school and beyond that disease prevention is obviously beneficial to both our patients and the health economy. Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to prevent disease is to maintain health (either through exercise and / or healthy eating). A prominent example of an app that helps to engage users in exercising is ‘RunKeeper,’ a mobile app that enables people to track and publish their latest jog-around-the-park. The elements of game design are a little more subtle in this example but the ability to track your own progress and compete with others via social media share buttons certainly reminds me of similar features seen in most of today’s online games. Other examples of ‘healthy living apps’ are rife amongst the respective ‘app stores,’ and there seems to be ample opportunity for the appliance of gamification in this field. An example might be to incorporate aspects of game design into a smoking cessation app or weight loss helper. Perhaps the addictive quality of a well designed game-app could overpower the urge for confectionary or that ‘last cigarette’…
The last area where I think ‘gamification’ could have a huge benefit is in (medical) education. Learning and revising are particularly susceptible to the rot of procrastination, so it goes without saying that many educational vendors have already attempted to incorporate fresh ways in which they can engage their users to put down the TV remote and pick up some knowledge for the exams. Meducation itself already has an area on its website entitled ‘Exam Room,’ where you can test yourself, track your progress and provide feedback on the questions you are given. I have always found this a far more addictive way to revise than sitting down with pen and paper to revise from a book. However, I feel there could be a far greater incorporation of game design in the field of medical education. Perhaps the absolute dream for like-minded gamers out there would be a super-gritty medical simulator that exposes you to common medical emergencies from the comfort of your own computer screen. I mean, my shiny new gaming console lets me pretend to be an elite solider deep behind enemy lines so why not let me pretend and practice to be a doctor too? You could even have feedback functionality to indicate where your management might have deviated from the optimum.
Perhaps more sensibly, the potential also exists to build on the existing banks of online medical questions to incorporate further aspects of social media interaction, achievement unlocks and inter-player competition (because in case you hadn’t noticed, medics are a competitive breed).
I have given a couple of very basic examples on how aspects of game design have emerged in recent health-related apps. I feel this phenomenon is in its infancy. The technology exists for so much more than the above, we just need to use our imagination… and learn how to code.
Recently, I made a short video about where I see the use of technology in MedEd (take a look), and when asked to write for Meducation, I thought it would be great to get people thinking about technology and its uses in medical school.
Social media – easy to use on smart phones, instant access to resources and thousands of likeminded people. Seems like a good place for medical education?
Students are often at the forefront of technology – we’ve grown up with it, and so many staff and lecturers within medical schools will be lagging. This makes it difficult to integrate technology into the curriculum, especially before technology has moved on. This is potentially why the use of twitter remains informal, and that may be its charm. By remaining informal, it means students can ask questions and get involved with hashtags without the constraints of marks and tests. Revision questions, mnemonics, diagrams and pictures are all over twitter, if you know where you’re looking.
Here’s my current list of useful people in medical education to follow, and the hashtags I’m following:
Easy and quick to set up an account
Thousands of medics around the world – ask questions, network and share resources
Can get involved as little or as much as you like
Mixing social life and education – medicine can already take over your life, do we really want to be thinking about it in our spare time? And do you want your lecturer to follow you?
Privacy – can only make full use of twitter with an open account
Getting students involved – many students don’t want twitter, so if it was to be used formally in education, there would have to be incentives
GMC advice on the use of social media can be found here.
People to follow
Hashtags to follow
I’ll update the list as it changes – leave a comment if you find anything good!
But can it be used in medical school? In my university, some lecturers put up a twitter feed, using the course name as a hashtag, where students ask questions without shouting out. The hashtag can be used after that, to ask questions and share relevant resources. I like this idea – but could it work in medical education? Maybe in early years it could be used in the same way, but once students are on placement it gets harder. While everyone is in different hospitals, it could be a good way to integrate learning, check students are meeting objectives and ask questions throughout to check understanding. Maybe its only use is announcements – “placement letters must be handed in by the 21st Jan”.
The other question is, how long can twitter last for? We’re already seeing a gradual decline in Facebook, so it may not be worth medical schools investing time and money into social media.
Are you on twitter? Do you keep it purely social or do you mix in medicine? Would you like to see your lecturers on board and tweeting you questions?
At the moment, I’m not too sure – I keep my twitter for medicine, answering the questions from @knowmedge, saving the mnemonics from @medfinalsrev, but I’m not sure how much I would get involved if my medical school used it officially…
Written by Anna Willis
Anna is a Medical Student at Sheffield University and is a Resident Blogger for Meducation
Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaPeerMedEd
Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A few years ago, a package holiday company advertised guaranteed sunny holidays in Queensland (Australia). The deal went something like this: if it rained on a certain percentage of your holiday days, you received a trip refund. An attractive drawcard indeed, but what the company failed to grasp was that the “Sunshine State” is very often anything but sunny.
This is especially so where I live, on the somewhat ironically named Sunshine Coast. We had 200 rainy days last year and well over 2 metres of rain, and that was before big floods in January. Unsurprisingly, the guaranteed sunny holiday offer was short-lived.
There are some things that really shouldn’t come with guarantees. The weather is one, health is another. Or so I thought…
“Those capsules you started me on last month for my nerve pain didn’t work. I tried them for a couple of weeks, but they didn’t do nothin'.”
“Perhaps you’d do better on a higher dose.”
“Nah, they made me feel kinda dizzy. I’d prefer to get my money back on these ones an’ try somethin’ different.”
“I can try you on something else, but there are no refunds available on the ones you’ve already used, I’m afraid.”
“But they cost me over 80 dollars!”
“Yes, I explained at the time that they are not subsidised by the government.”
“But they didn’t work! If I bought a toaster that didn’t work, I’d take it back and get me money back, no problem.”
“Medications are not appliances. They don’t work every time, but that doesn’t mean they’re faulty.”
“But what about natural products? I order herbs for me prostate and me heart every month and they come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You doctors say those things don’t really work so how come the sellers are willing to put their money where their mouths are?”
He decided to try a “natural” treatment next, confident of its likely effectiveness thanks to the satisfaction guarantee offered.
Last week I had a 38-year-old female requesting a medical certificate stating that her back pain was no better. The reason? She planned to take it to her physiotherapist and request a refund because the treatment hadn’t helped. Like the afflicted patient above, she didn’t accept that health-related products and services weren’t “cure guaranteed”.
“My thigh sculptor machine promised visible results in 60 days or my money back. Why aren’t physios held accountable too?”
Upon a quick Google search, I found that many “natural health” companies offer money-back guarantees, as do companies peddling skin products and gimmicky home exercise equipment. I even found a site offering guaranteed homeopathic immunisation. Hmmm…
In an information-rich, high-tech world, we are becoming less and less tolerant of uncertainty. Society wants perfect, predictable results — now! For all its advances, modern medicine cannot provide this and we don’t pretend otherwise. Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A clever marketing ploy that patients seem to be buying into — literally and figuratively.
I think we all need to be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous words: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” We can’t really put guarantees on whether it will rain down on our holidays or on our health, and should retain a healthy scepticism towards those who attempt to do so.
This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/articles/11/0c070a11.asp
Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/
Being Black in America is dangerous. We hear about the deaths by police shooting or white supremacist - and by gun violence generally, which disproportionately plagues Black communities. But we hardly ever discuss the persistent discrepancy in life expectancy between white and black. There are many ways to attack the latter through healthcare policy and practice -- if we are willing. That remains the question for America 48 years after King was killed.