Social games improving patient outcomes

Ayogo is a Vancouver company based on the application of game psychology to patient self-care. Its customizable social games and apps engage, educate, and empower patients with chronic conditions. Ayogo CEO and Founder, Michael Fergusson, was at Toronto’s Mobile Healthcare Summit to explain how he got into the healthcare space.

He noticed that people don’t take their meds. While it should come as no surprise that that can be costly for an individual patient with a chronic illness, it’s also very expensive from a healthcare system point of view. The reason for the problem, says Fergusson, is something called ‘hyperbolic discounting’ – these people make decisions today they will one day wish they hadn’t made. The context in which people make these decisions is what Ayogo is trying to address.

Games are context management systems, explains Fergusson. They can get people to act counter-intuitively, and there is evidence that engagement through games can, among other things, improve adherence to treatment regimes in children with diabetes and cancer.

Games do three things well that healthcare apps often struggle with. Games offer a narrative; they encourage a progressive mastery; and they create a social context. They “add child-like wonder to the experience,” says Fergusson.

To help bridge the gap between games and traditional health care apps, Ayogo has created GoodLife, a proprietary ‘gamification platform’. The GoodLife platform allows Ayogo to build applications that use the power of play to motivate people to change their lives. To make sure they get these apps right, Ayogo collaborates with clinicians, leading researchers, and other healthcare professionals.

A screenshot from Ayogo's Facebook integrated diabetes app
A screenshot from Ayogo’s Facebook integrated diabetes app

An example of an Ayogo app built on the GoodLife engine is HealthSeeker, a game created to help people with diabetes take steps to get healthier. The game’s 5,000 active users have logged 15,812 healthy meals and 32,720 healthy actions. Notably, players who get encouragement from their friends in the game take, on average, two-and-a-half times as many healthy actions as players who don’t. Games are useful for short-term behavioural nudges, says Fergusson, but it’s the social element that keeps patients engaged over the longer term.

Tony Drake
Tony Drake
Initially trained as a Medical Doctor, Tony Drake is now a student at law with Aluvion. Tony's work focuses on medicine, technology, and the law. A father of three, Tony uses his limited free time to write unfinished novels.

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