It’s All Fun and Games 10

Game Controller

Growing up as an avid gamer, I can’t help but feel thrilled about the surge in gamifcation; the concept of incorporating game elements into non-game contexts. The ideas of gamification motivated me to recently take a course on gamification.

The course was taught by a reputable gamification expert, Professor Kevin Werbach, from University of Pennsylvania’s renowned Wharton School of Business. He was recently depicted in Daniel Pink’s blog post, “The How’s and Why’s of Gamification: 4 Questions for Kevin Werbach.” (By the way, whether you’re an avid gamer or not, I highly recommend you take Professor Werbach’s next offering).

Let’s face it, many facets of healthcare can be quite distressing at times. I’ve seen this firsthand in the pharmacy, where patients came in to pick up their medications past the estimated refill date because they would forget to take their medications at appropriate times.

The same notion could be applied to the subtleties involved with clinical development as well. Are there better ways for clinical trial participants to be engaged in their clinical trial journey? I say yes.

What if we could add a little oomph into the distressing tasks and step up the fun factor. Gamification is based on this notion and essentially takes the fun and engaging aspects of the games we’ve played and applies them to non-game contexts.

You’ve probably seen points, badges, leaderboards, and other game mechanics sometime or another in applications like FourSquare, Stack Overflow, Wikipedia, and others alike. It’s gratifying and fun to reach a sense of accomplishment and in-turn be recognized for your contributions. If designed properly, gamified systems have led to more people engagement in areas that were once deemed boring to solve.

Would you have thought the notion of folding protein structures into different patterns could be fun? Ask the creators of Foldit. Foldit is a novel computer game that allows one to contribute to scientific research by identifying the optimal folding patterns of proteins; you’re solving a real-life problem for fun. Now, Foldit may not be a game for everyone, but its logic enhances the engagement of those who were once borderline in attempting to engage in such an activity.

Where else is gamification being used to enhance engagement in the healthcare process? There’s quite a few to choose from. In a previous post, we discussed the app Pain Squad, which was designed to make the task of recording a pain diary more engaging. Patients move up the ranks based on their level of engagement.

Imagine applying the concept of gamification to the clinical development setting, as Jeri Burtchell mentioned in her “Meet Subject #0008” blogpost. Clinical trial participants would be rewarded and recognized for tasks such as checking into their scheduled appointments on time, updating and tracking their personalized journals, providing reviews on their experience, and so on, perhaps painting a more telling story in each participant’s clinical trial journey.

According to Gartner, 50% of the processes of innovation and 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified app by the year 2015. Stay tuned as we plan to add some fun and engagement into our apps and tools.


  1. There’s a lot to be said for the satisfaction of “leveling up” in a game. Rewards and recognition are stimulating and addictive. I would love to see an app that could be adapted to be trial-specific. One that incorporated reminders about appointments or medications, with rewards for positive outcomes.

    It sounds silly, but I might not have dreaded the claustrophobia of the MRI quite so badly (and wished for any excuse to avoid) if I knew that once I’d “completed that level” of the trial game I’d get a gold star or something. I would have had something positive to focus on while laying in that tube and I would have had validation/recognition that my contribution was valued.

    With the gamification of a clinical trial, the participant will be able to see where they have come from, what the objective is, and what is expected of them during the course of the trial. It could be a visual, interactive tool that provides rewards for every successful interaction on the part of the trial participant.

    Science is a serious business, but incorporating something fun and rewarding into the process to encourage compliance or retention is appealing on a human level. We all love to be rewarded.

    I know, even without an app, that my contribution to the trial was valuable, but it would have been nice to Level Up. 🙂

    • Jeri, thank you very much for your inspiration! It’s examples like the ones you explained above that inspire us to think outside the box and identify areas where we too could do some Leveling Up! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Jeri! As ideas turn into plans, and plans to action, we absolutely need direct, real feedback from experienced trial participants to shape the effort! You’re starting to do that right now, and it’s so much appreciated.

  2. The idea of apps for trial patients has been out there for quite some time. I discussed as much with Craig Lipset of Pfizer over a year ago, so I do not take credit for having any kind of a “eureka!” moment. I only added it to my “wish list” in my guest blog post because I truly see it as a way to aid a trial participant in successfully adhering to trial protocol. Making it a game would just add some fun to the whole process.

    If I am able to add to the dialog about what that app should or could be, then I’m honored to play a part.

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