Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center is using the Pokémon Go app for therapy among pediatric burn patients.

Health gamification has gotten a lot of attention as a way to more effectively engage people in their health, whether it’s management of chronic disease or lifestyle improvements.

The widely popular Pokemon Go app, developed by Niantic with Nintendo, has taken the mobile gaming world by storm after its July release. Players jump into the augmented reality game, using a camera view of the real world but with virtual Pokémon added to the screen. If you see people walking around holding their phones out in front of them, chances are they are out catching Pokémon while exploring a real-world map. And in a nod to a not-so-hidden agenda – players can earn rewards for walking anywhere from 2 to 10 kilometers.

The Burn Center team at Harborview is encouraging the use of Pokémon Go in therapy sessions as part of a trial in the use of this augmented reality experience. Not only is the app helping therapist mobilize their pediatric patients, but it also is reportedly providing a level of analgesia for those recovering from truly horrific and painful injuries.

The 400+ bed hospital is no stranger to the use of emerging technology in their burn unit. They previously have pioneered the use of SnowWorld virtual reality experience among burn patients, with reportedly excellent results. That game, the result of a development partnership with the University of Washington, allows players to explore a fantasy arctic environment, complete with snowballs, penguins, snowmen, and glacier, during wound dressing changes. The resulting “VR Analgesia” was presented in a 2008 study in the Clinical Journal of Pain and showed a correlation between the degree of immersion and resulting pain relief.

Pokémon Go’s simplistic hardware requirements (basically, a GPS-enabled smartphone with sufficient memory) is considerably more affordable than the virtual reality setup of Snow World yet still may provide a level of analgesia, likely through distraction and pain gate-control mechanisms. The medical potential for immersive VR and augmented reality is immense and I look forward to seeing what clinical avenues it will take next!

Source: Seattle Times