New Rochelle, NY — Ben Sawyer, one of the original advocates for using games to improve competency and outcomes in health, described the problem we’re up against in six simple words: “The interface of healthcare is broken.” Said another way: We’re just not engaging people. We give them complicated brochures and an entirely new language of acronyms and science. We charge them with requirements, but offer them few rewards.

Games are a way to break through all of that and create simple experiences people want to use. Experiences we’d actually take with us into real life (no offense to the brochures).

Did you know that almost 60% of Americans play games? Erase that gun-toting image of Tomb Raider from your head, more Americans are playing puzzle, trivia and casual social games. The numbers are pretty amazing – they tell us that more adult women than teenage boys play, that the average age of a gamer is 30, and that 62% of gamers play with someone else, either online or in person.

In healthcare, games create an incentive, a reason to stick with a behavior or spend more time learning. Debra Lieberman, publisher of the new Games for Health journal, says “The beauty of a game is that it gives you a goal. People will work longer and harder if you give them a goal.” The longer they work, the more they accomplish. We gathered three examples to prove it – one with teenagers, one with seniors and one for everyone in between.

Remission 1 and 2

Remission has been showing its impact for almost 10 years. At its core, it’s a simulation game that lets players virtually fight cancer with chemotherapy, antibiotics and the body’s own defenses.

In 2008, the journal Pediatrics reported on a randomized clinical trial of the game, involving 375 patients at 34 medical centers in the United States, Australia, and Canada during 2004–2005. The study showed that patients who played the game actually became more engaged in their care and, in effect, turned into better patients. Pamela M. Kato, one of the authors, concluded that patients who played the game “significantly improved treatment adherence and indicators of cancer-related self-efficacy and knowledge,” compared to patients who did not play. They were more engaged in their care, knowledgable about their treatment plan, and even 16% more adherent.

The creators at Hope Labs took their experience with the first game together with changing preferences for how people play to reimagine the experience in Remission 2. The new game is a free app that’s more like the small social games, like Angry Birds or Candy Crush, that people like playing now. It was designed with over 120 patients and has already been downloaded over 2,000 times. Read more in a MM&M feature.


From the long-proven to the cutting edge. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco recently published the results of a four-year study on how a simple game could improve the short-term memory and long-term focus of older adults. Neuroscientists there worked with developers to create NeuroRacer, an app-like game in which players swerve around other cars and try to identify specific road signs that pop up on the screen, while ignoring other signs deemed irrelevant.

Immediately, the game showed how difficult multitasking really is. Twenty-somethings experienced a 26% drop in performance when they were asked to try to drive and identify signs at the same time (rather than just identify the signs without driving). People in their 60s to 80s dropped 64%.

But after the older adults trained at the game, they became more successful than untrained people in their 20s. The performance levels were sustained for six months, even without additional training. The older adults also performed better at memory and attention tests outside the game. Read more from the New York Times. Or, see the game in action on YouTube.


Healthrageous is the pioneer of a concept called Accountable Health. It’s what happens when a consumer takes responsibility for modifying her lifestyle in ways that prevent or improve the management of a chronic condition, increase adherence to medication or comply with care plans that lead to optimal clinical outcomes. Their digital health management platform blends evidence-based protocols with gaming dynamics to foster those engaged healthy behaviors across entire populations.

The platform includes a dynamic digital coach that learns from your real-world behavior and offers the right-for-you balance of encouragement and recognition of (little) jobs well done. It also creates real-time visualization of personal data from trackers or even biometic tools. The gaming dynamics are in the inspiration engine. Healthrageous personalizes engagement strategies to find what works for each person, whether that’s recognition and incentive programs, individual or team competitions, or inspirational community support.

Healthrageous is working with United BioSource and Boehringer Ingelheim on a new study to determine if the tools can help improve the health of people living with Type 2 diabetes.

Check out this related article on the Huffington Post about how games extend our lives.

Posted by: Leigh Householder

Finds from: Dawn Marinacci

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.