A congestive heart failure (CHF) patient sits in his hospital bed with an iPad, playing a video game. The object of the game is to guide a friendly-looking character named Simon through a series of health-related tasks. Simon is a virtual CHF patient who was recently released from the hospital, and players must coach him on three daily behaviors: tracking his weight, getting him to take his medication, and calling the doctor if there are any problems. Can Simon avoid readmission to the hospital after a virtual week? If so, the player has won the game!

Increasingly, real video games like this one are being used to improve patient education and engagement, especially for patients with chronic diseases. In this case, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) partnered with Simcoach Games, a developer of interactive video games designed to achieve learning and behavior change in users, to create this game in order to reduce hospital readmissions in congestive heart failure patients.

Video games work because they are “a powerful way to manipulate user behavior,” said Gabe Zichermann in HealthLeaders Media. (A marketing author and entrepreneur, Zicherman is the one who coined the term “gamification.”) He explains that video games, much like videos used in patient education, elicit more engagement than traditional education materials. As a result, users spend more time with them than with static educational tools like brochures or handouts.

Focusing on visual learning
That visual and interactive methods of patient education lead to increased engagement and better results is not necessarily news. An estimated 65 percent of the population are thought to be visual learners (some studies put the number as high as 85 percent). So, while your practice may not yet be in the position to fund an educational video game for patients, sticking with paper handouts and plastic models to describe complex procedures and diagnoses isn’t the answer either.

With only 12 percent of U.S. adults considered to have proficient health literacy, many of your patients leave confused by explanations, fail to understand written materials, or forget what you’ve told them after and appointment.  An approach that does not involve the written word — such as video-based content — can assist in all these areas and can be emailed to patients or available on practice websites or patient portals so that caregivers or families can assist in the process, as well.

Moving the needle in health care
We know that patients want their doctors to use technology — from online appointment scheduling to social media — and that when used correctly, technology can enhance the patient experience. However, we also know that many digital health tools fail to keep patients engaged over the long-term. Just look at the high abandonment rates of wearable fitness trackers and patient portals. So how likely is it that using video games will move the needle in health care?

It seems likely that “non-traditional” education approaches for patient education like the use of video content and video games will have an effect on health care. Studies have shown that people retain six times more information if they see and hear something versus just seeing it, reinforcing the idea that videos can boost patient compliance and engagement. Similarly, doctors who used an online game to receive information about blood pressure treatments had better patient outcomes. (For more, see this post on 4 Real-Life Examples of How Gamification is Changing the Healthcare Industry.)

Also, unlike some mobile health (mHealth) initiatives, video games are proving to have appeal and benefits for both patients and providers. UPMC found that initial feedback on “Simon” was positive from staff and patients, and research shows that physicians are using video for professional development with as much interest as patients.

So while video games may not be an accessible approach for most practices today, the use of video and visual learning to replace traditional patient education approaches is accessible and proven successful for engaging patients.

To see how technology can help you improve patient education, sign up for a free two-week trial of Rendia and find out how it can benefit your practice.