Gamification in Pharma: Is it still a thing?

megan fabry
Mar 19, 2019 · 4 min read

About 8 or 9 years ago, when social and mobile apps forever altered the landscape with games like Words with Friends and Candy Crush, the healthcare industry took notice. We tried to replicate the simplicity and allure of these games, thus solidifying “gamification” in healthcare.

As an avid gamer, no one was more excited by this trend than me! I couldn’t wait to launch games that kept sales reps engaged, challenged HCPs to compete while learning new data, and motivated patients to stay compliant by leveling up. Then, reality set in.

Failure to Launch

Despite the fact that gaming is an ideal platform to foster lasting behavioral changes, the gamification trend didn’t take off in pharma at the rate we see across the broader healthcare landscape. Most were limited to gimmicky Family Feud-style trivia or Space Invader-like shooters. And for an industry striving to influence behavior change — whether it be prescribing habits or lifestyle adjustments — I found it perplexing that we didn’t leverage gaming to tell complex and engaging stories through game-based challenges or puzzles that helped users think differently about a disease or treatment.

There are myriad reasons pharma hasn’t focused more on the medium, budget and timing being the two main culprits. To create a game that resonates with patients or physicians, you need research, planning, testing, and optimization to strike the right balance between novelty in gameplay and educational/behavior-changing content. That takes time to perfect… and the desire to launch tactics as quickly and inexpensively as possible is my best guess at the underlying reason most pharma games rely on repetitive, single elements of gameplay that reduce them to a forgettable tactic reserved mostly for convention booths.

So, does that mean pharma shouldn’t embrace gaming? Absolutely not!

Building the Right Game for Pharma

According to a recent report, the global Healthcare Gamification Market is poised to grow 53% over the next several years to reach approximately $13.58 billion by 2025. As the landscape continues to evolve, the question becomes: How can pharma marketers embrace gaming as a viable platform?

  1. Chronic Condition Management. For anyone that struggles with weight, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, etc., gamification can be a compelling tool for reinforcing ongoing care and lifestyle adjustments. One example is Bayer’s Didget blood glucose meter. It connects to a Nintendo DS gaming platform and helps kids manage their diabetes by rewarding them for consistent testing and, as points accumulate, allowing them to unlock new levels and options.
DIDGET Blood Glucose Meter

2. Exercises & Therapy. Physical therapy is crucial for patients who suffer from debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Gaming is an excellent way to extend therapy beyond the office and into the home. Beat Medical provides apps for adults and children with mobility and speech disabilities as a result of Parkinson’s and Dyspraxia, and through simple and fun games, they deliver daily exercises to help improve speech and motor skills. Another example is a recent collaboration between Rice University and Nintendo to help children with cerebral palsy and spina bifida. They constructed a system of Wii Balance Boards arranged between handrails and a screen. Patients shoot monsters by hitting specific spots of the boards with their feet. As they improve, the game becomes more challenging and helps to improve balance and coordinated movement.

3. Game-Based Rewards to Encourage Adherence. Gaming can help motivate and reinforce the importance of taking medications consistently and on time. One such gaming app, developed by Mango Health, incentivizes patients to stay adherent and adopt healthier lifestyles by earning points and unlocking the chance to win gift cards or make charitable donations. A similar platform, HealthPrize, motivates users to engage in branded content, take quizzes, and earn points that can be redeemed for various offers.

4. Simulation-Based Training for HCPs. Think Operation, only on a much larger and digital scale. Simulation learning can take many forms, including simple skills training on a mobile app, or recreations of full-body, virtual reality “patients” who require complex procedures. Doctors can interact with these virtual patients to learn anything from how to deliver sensitive news to inserting catheters.

And, if all else fails, there’s always in-game advertising. Bring on those mobile banners! Just don’t be afraid of adding gamification to your brand arsenal.

Megan is a video game junkie to this day and believes nothing will ever beat the experience of smashing buildings in Rampage at the local arcade. If you disagree, Megan can be reached for comment at You’d be wrong, but she will respond.


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