Gamification uses game mechanics and rewards for nongame applications with the intent of increasing engagement and loyalty. Gamification in the pharmaceutical industry is an innovative approach to driving positive behavior change in patients and physicians.
Healthcare marketers, publishers and agencies supporting manufacturers increasingly use social media as an outlet for reaching customers. The pharmaceutical industry in particular embraces the unique tools and functions available on various social media sites to disseminate information. Gamification builds on that social media strategy to drive positive behavior.
Gamification is coming of age. Embracing the new technological approach to engagement can help pharmaceutical companies at all levels of their business. While gamification is growing rapidly across other business sectors, pharma is just now starting to include the strategy in its marketing and sales efforts.
Companies of all types increasingly use gamification to deliver their marketing message to a wider audience. Now a number of pharmaceutical firms use gamification as part of their social media strategy to reach patients, healthcare professionals and the public. Medical professionals are also using gaming as a vehicle to encourage patients to adopt healthier habits.
Gamification is not about creating games to pass the time away. It is about driving positive behavior changes in people by engaging them and offering rewards in the form of points, badges or bonuses. At its heart, gamification is about influencing behavior and improving outcomes, both of which are key goals for the pharmaceutical industry.
Gamification can include simulation training, patient adherence, clinical information, medical education and research that influence patient behavior in positive ways.
Simulation games help patients learn about diseases and improve medication adherence. Patients learn about various clinical outcomes by walking through a virtual role-playing game that explores what happens if they fail to manage their health conditions adequately. Games can engage young children with diabetes, for example, to help kids gain a better understanding of the importance of measuring blood sugar and taking insulin – and to have fun doing it.
Pharmaceutical gamification can influence patient behavior. Games help users achieve self-improvement goals, such as weight loss. These games track the user’s trends toward previously identified goals and outline steps the user can take to achieve these goals over time. While many patients are interested in games for weight loss, gamification can drive success towards nearly any self-improvement goal by encouraging positive behavior changes.
Current gamification apps use game elements that encourage users to make healthy life choices by including features that track blood glucose levels, eating habits and exercise. As patients learn about their conditions, they will want to set goals, measure their progress towards achieving those goals, set milestones, and compare their performance against set benchmarks or even against other people. Gamification can help children better manage juvenile diabetes, for example, to reduce urgent care and emergency clinical visits related to the condition.
Some games provide a wider understanding of medicine. An adventure game teaches children and their families about the realities of clinical trials, for example, and helps families understand the risks and benefits of these trials.
Physicians are always interested in driving better results in less time, and gamification can help them do that. Physicians who use video games a primary learning tool drive better patient outcomes than those who read the information online, according to a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. Researchers in that study hoped to find out whether playing an online game would help primary care clinicians get patients to their target blood pressure quicker.
Doctors at eight hospitals participated in a 2-arm randomized trial where, over the course of 52 weeks, the participating clinicians received educational content consisting of 32 validated multiple-choice questions along with explanations on hypertension management. Subjects in the control group received the information via email while the test group received the information in an online trivia game. Time to the blood pressure target of <140/90 mmHg was the primary outcome measure. The game posted relative performance scores to foster competition among practitioners.
The researchers performed multivariable analysis of 17,866 hypertensive periods among the 14,336 patients treated by the doctors enrolled in the study and determined the patients’ median time to BP target was 142 days for doctors in the gamification group and 148 days for those in the email group.
Companies currently use gamification to hold competitions where, for example, participants can predict a biological response by creating models to predict mutability of new compounds. Apps that support pharmaceutical R&D allow users to look at a snapshot of a tissue, blood cells or irregular cell with cancer then compete to analyze and classify the samples. The game provides constant feedback
Gamification also entices professionals to participate in crowdsourcing, which can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes a small group of trained pathologists to analyze and classify samples.
Pharmaceutical marketers currently focus gamification in direct to consumer (DTC) marketing but future marketers may turn their attention to continuing medical education, disease awareness and prevention. One company launched a Facebook game in 2012, where European players could create their own pharmaceutical company and develop drugs for a number of diseases.
Widespread use of mobile technology is key to the adoption and spread of gamification. Games must be available at the point of need. Multi-channel availability, including social media and direct response, is essential to ensure high levels of usage and measurable feedback. Recent surveys show medical professionals already use mobile technology in their practices.
Physicians seem to be on board with the idea of engaging with patients through gamification, both to improve the quality of care they provide and for the health of their patients. Manhattan Research’s Taking the Pulse U.S. 2014 survey, 40 percent of doctors said that they thought utilizing technology to communicate with and keep track of patients would lead to better health outcomes. More than one in three said they had undergone evaluation or received an award based on metrics measuring cost of treatment, patient outcomes or referrals within the previous year. Two in five said they have increased the use of digital tools to communicate with patients in the previous year.
Gamification helps pharmaceutical companies provide disease education for the people playing it, and it helps the companies filter their marketing messages for its ongoing disease awareness campaigns. Games may require participants to watch videos relating to the company’s disease awareness campaign or fill out questionnaires in return for new equipment or drug compounds as a reward, for example.
On the face of it, gamification is about explaining the pharmaceutical industry to physicians and to the public. Gamification may highlight the contributions of a particular drug or discuss the difficulties of getting new drugs to market. More specifically, gamification is an effective vehicle for communicating messages about products and disease awareness campaigns to larger audiences.
Gamification and pharmaceutical marketing communications is still in its infancy but will expand as social media and other communication technologies advance. The role of gamification in biotech and pharma industries will likely evolve as gamification helps pharmaceutical companies drive positive behavior change of patients and the physicians who care for them.