One interesting panel discussion I attended at the mHealth Summit was on “The Evolution of Gaming and its Effect on Prevention and Wellness” moderated by Mitul Shah of the West Wireless Health Institute.

Panelists included Ravi Komatireddy (West Wireless), Iana Simeonov (University of California, San Francisco), Debra Lieberman (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Douglas Goldstein (iConnecto).

Douglas Goldstein led off the panel and is one of the most energetic speakers I have ever seen, instantly engaging the audience in an impromptu Q&A session complete with prizes for correct answers.

Goldstein pointed out that games have already proven to be big business for many companies. Seventy percent of app downloads are games and Facebook is valued close to $100B because of their casual gaming platform. This is a powerful fact and something all developers need to take into account when designing for consumers.

If it is fun it is a great way to waste time–and what better way to waste time than by being healthy? He really emphasized the power of using off the shelf technology to create games that engage patients and help them manage their conditions in an enjoyable way.

Debra Lieberman of UC Santa Barbara Health Games Research was up next and made the very good point that before games can be used for health interventions we need to know if/how they work. There are many games out there for health and most of them aren’t any good. Well designed games are powerful experiences, its not just watered down reality but instead rule based activities with goals and incentives to achieve those goals. There are opportunities to tap into users intrinsic motivations that take games beyond the digital universe and helps users address real problems in their lives.

According to Lieberman, games are great icebreakers that foster closer relationships, particular between pediatric patients and their physicians. Being a character or helping a character influences self-concepts, attitudes and health.

One very interesting part of the presentation was when Iana Simeonov (Director of mHealth at University of California San Francico) demoed an HTML5 game on her iPad called Pills or Candy. The game presents two pictures, one of a common pill found in a consumer’s medicine cabinet, the other of a popular candy.

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Dr Ravi Komatireddy then spoke to games for health from a clinician perspective and focused on four key issues of Efficacy, Applicability, Perception and Guidance. He also discussed the confusing and unclear nature of the current games for health environment. “Where’s the manual for games for health? As a physician talking to a patient, what do I tell them to go play? Do I prescribe it, or does my nurse do it? I am a believer; I want to use this stuff. But how do you assure me those problems won’t exist?”