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Lets take a break from all the Health 2.0 web goodies and play a health game! Nutrition Sleuth is a game that provides kids and adults with an introduction to the essential vitamins and minerals important in keeping the body working as it should be.

Participants role-play as the famous nutritionist inspector Smarfengood whose goal is to figure out what essential nutrient is missing from each of his victims. Think of the game as “hang-man” with the category as vitamins and nutrients.

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marble-blast-ultra-20051221062258837.jpgTo the numerous list of health innovations the Wii can do, we add in improving surgery performance by 50%.

The BBC reports that researchers at the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center studied eight surgeon trainees who trained for an hour on a Wii before performing 50% better on a virtual surgery simulator. Their scores excelled in the areas of tool control and overall performance as compared to those who did not.

The game in question is called Marble Mania, which involves moving a marble through a 3D maze.

To be fair, the researchers should pit these “Wii-surgeons” against those who meditate, visualize, pray, or perform hand exercise before surgery.

In any case, the researchers claim that the fine movement of a ball through a maze are complementary to skills which would help a surgeon in surgery.  They also suggested that perhaps spending $250 for a surgery prep device is a great alternative for poorer countries to train their surgeons as compared to buying an expensive surgery virtual simulator.

Read more on: Health Games, Medutainment, Tech

pogo.pngPogo is a site known for its free online games that has 16 million unique visitors a month, with members spending an average of 51 minutes on the site. Pogo, a part of Electronic Arts, has teamed up with Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute to convey the message to students that “playing games such as those found at Pogo.com provide needed mental breaks, reduce stress and restore the mind and body connection.”Partnered with Dr. Hall, Pogo has launched “Take 5 to Play,” which provides Pogo players with advice on achieving a balanced and healthy life while highlighting the positive stress effects from playing casual games on Pogo. The program offers:

  • “Take five for You” Stress LESS tips
  • Ask Dr. Hall : Players may submit questions to Dr. Hall about problems they encounter in their lives
  • Monthly articles
  • Pogo stress-relief game nights

This is an interesting strategy by Pogo executives. However, if Pogo really wants to prove that casual gaming reduces stress, they’re going to have to link to clinical studies as well as have the “Doctor-approved” stamp on some of the games because not all games are stress-free games.

 

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Jeremy Liew, a partner at the venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners, wrote his predictions for the consumer Internet 2008. One of his prediction is Games 2.0, of which involves an increase in the number of players that participate in casual gaming as a means to connect with friends.

While I concur with Dr. Liew’s predictions, I’d like to add that another emerging trend for the Consumer Internet 2008 is the marriage between games and health. There have been several posts on HippocraTech in regards to online games developed by insurance and independent game companies aimed at improving health.

Coupled to Dr. Liew’s predictions, I think that an untapped area is the use of casual gaming online that is connected to the mental well-being of users. While there are games such as BrainAge that offers a variety of games on the Nintendo DS to give your brain a workout, inspired by a prominent Japanese scientist, I have yet to see more casual-gaming online sites that plays upon the mental health arena.

There have been several clinical studies that have shown that frequent brain stimulation in old age reduces risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Stimulation does not have to be reading or walking, it could be playing games online, as long as these situations stimulate the mind.

The gaming industry cannot merely put a bunch of casual games online and call it “Games for Health.” A game that requires the cognitive skills of unscrambling words are different than that where a user throws a cat out of a cannon. The casual games aimed at improving mental health need to be those that stimulate the “thinking” frontal cortex.

Neurosky and Emotiv Systems Inc. are two companies focused on creating games using brain wave activities. The companies hope that their development will:

  • Boost mental abilities for users
  • Enable paralyzed patients to move in a virtual world
  • Boost mental focus of ADD patients

The core of both game technology is electroencephalography (EEG)

Neurosky uses a headset with one electrode sensor. A preview of theneurosky.jpg game may be found in the video section on the left hand side of this page or here.

Emotiv Systems Inc., on the other hand, has developed a gel-free headset with 18 sensors that have the ability to monitor basic changes in mood, focus and detects brain waves correlating with blinks, laughter and as well as smiles. It is a development that may be applied in a game setting to help psychiatric patients deal with anger management

Brain activity associated with computers isn’t a new concept. Schools such as the University of California and Purdue have labs that focus upon correlating brain waves to moving cursors on the computer screen, which may useful for disabled individuals. However, the development of games via the use of brain waves is still in its infancy stage and has yet to penetrate the dura mater of the healthcare sector.

Neurosky and Emotiv Systems developments are potential alternative treatments for children and adults with attention deficit disorder/with and without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD) or even Alzheimer’s patients . While there needs to be controlled studies on the effects of these types of games relating to psychiatric disorders or age-associated memory impairment, it is exciting to think of the possibilities and alternatives to patient care beyond pharmaceuticals.

rocologoforsite.gifInspire Foundation has developed a game called Reach Out Central! (ROC), that “promotes positive youth mental health by adapting content from effective psychological intervention.” The game provides an interactive environment for those ages 16-25 years to identify and deal with depression, anger, and anxiety. According to Inspire, 1 in 5 young people experience some sort of mental health problem yet only 29% seek clinical help, most often turning to the internet for support. The foundation hopes that ROC will help these young people to deal with their mental problems.

The game is fairly easy to play. In a snapshot, you are in a new town and must make new friends by learning to communicate with characters in the game. Initiating conversation with another computer character will stimulate a short chat that provides you with a list of possible responses. After the conversation, you can check the game character’s bio and their “affinity rating” with you during the contact. In addition, you may participate in activities that would either increase or decrease you stress level. Think of the game as a “Choose your adventure book,” but in this case, it’s a “Choose your emotion” game.

ROC puts a twist to anger or depression management. It allows users to discover the right and wrong ways of dealing with different situations in a safe, comfortable environment. The graphics in the game are amazing, the music makes it seem hip to play, and the game works both in FireFox as well as Internet Explorer.

roc1a.jpg

Figure 1. Picture of a player’s virtual room

rocmom2.gif

Figure 2. Learning to talk to Mom

kaiswer.jpgHealth insurers are developing games to educate and engage clients. Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Humana Inc. will be launching games in the upcoming weeks that will be focused on obesity and diabetes. Their effort is being called “medutainment” meaning medical information being conveyed as a form of entertainment.

Kaiser is distributing an obesity-focused game called “Amazing Food Detective,” where players must try to help characters learn how to eat better and be more physically active. The game targets 9 to 10 year olds. Humana will have games launched in 2008. They plan on developing games for diabetes, obesity, and medical adherence.

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hopelab1.jpgAn upcoming revolution in health right now is games used for health purposes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has provided $8.25M for Health Games Research. The grant’s purpose is to “support research to enhance the quality and effectiveness of interactive games that are used to improve health.”

One of the most popular games for health is Re-mission, a game that allows young kids to understand what cancer is and toremission_cancergame.jpg “increase a players’ sense of control over their circumstances”. The idea is developed by Pam Omidyar (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s wife). Parents as well as kids have commented that the game helps to “open [their] eyes to cancer” and that the interactive features of the games assist to understand the condition as oppose to just reading about it. Re-mission is developed by HopeLab, a non-profit organization that combines medical research with innovative solutions to improve health and healthcare.

Being an avid gamer myself, I am excited to see this trend in healthcare. I encourage all healthcare professionals to become involved by participating in various competitions available that are asking for innovative game ideas that would assist in improving patients’ health.

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[Last modified: 12/08/07]