Gamification to Improve the User Experience of Cancer Pain Management

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) Research team created the Pain Squad App for cancer patients aged 8–18 to track their pain before, during and after procedures or treatment. The original app used characters from top Canadian police dramas Rookie Blue and Flashpoint to motivate kids to earn police badges by tracking their pain twice a day. Pivot joined the project to redesign the user experience, improve the gamification algorithm and to add new features. The new features included:

  • Any time pain tracking,
  • Advice on how to manage pain
  • Improved point system and game play

We used the original app’s premise of tracking pain to earn points and police badges as a starting point for our expert analysis. We conducted a landscape review and looked at a variety of existing apps to set the baseline for the new design.

We built user profiles and focused on two primary groups:

  • New patients who would use the app every day
  • Patients already in treatment who would use it less frequently

We created two mood and style boards. The first was close to the original app’s look-and-feel with realistic photos and a 1940s-detective-agency style. The second used vector illustrations with a more flat, playful and bright colour palette. SickKids tested both designs and found that kids gravitated more towards the latter.

Mood Boards A & B

Once we determined the look-and-feel, we started wireframing and introducing the new features. We added a much-needed home screen as a game-status and navigation point. We included an introductory “walk-through” feature to teach kids how to use the app. By contrasting colours and sizes, we prioritized key action items, enabling users to quickly find what they need.

Screens for Pain Tracking, Case Filed, and Recommended Advice

Young patients love the app’s playful look-and-feel and updated gameplay. The new advice section gives kids real-time strategies to better manage and cope with their pain while allowing nurses to better monitor and care for their patients.

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