UTS Pharmacy PhD student Elyssa Wiecek uses gaming technology to improve how we take medication.
We all love to play games – Monopoly, Mario Kart, Candy Crush. We love the feeling of winning the race, or finally conquering a level that we’ve been stuck on for ages.
Pharmacy PhD student Elyssa Wiecek has conducted a study on the use of gamification to improve medication adherence.
Elyssa understands how much we like games and the feelings we get from them. “It feels good, like you’re achieving something. This feeling is not a coincidence. There’s a lot of dopamine released in your brain while you’re playing a game.”
It feels good, like you’re achieving something. This feeling is not a coincidence. There’s a lot of dopamine released in your brain while you’re playing a game.
“The burst of colours in Candy Crush or the little ding! that you hear when Mario collects a coin are there for a reason. They’re positive reinforcers to keep motivating you.”
We hear a lot about this power of games in a negative context, mostly when describing teenagers who are addicted to gaming. But Elyssa wanted to see if we could use them to improve our health.
It’s estimated that 40% of patients across Australia don’t take their medications properly. It could be because we forget or we just don’t have the motivation to do it.
Elyssa thinks that this lack of motivation is probably because there’s no instant benefit from taking most medications. “You’re not getting that benefit a day later or even a week later. It’s hard to see the reward of taking your medication if positive health outcomes are so far in the distance. This is where the power of games comes into play.”
You’re not getting that benefit a day later or even a week later. It’s hard to see the reward of taking your medication if positive health outcomes are so far in the distance. This is where the power of games comes into play.
Elyssa evaluated a medication management app called Perx which uses instant rewards to encourage and motivate patients to take the right dose of their medication at the right time, every day.
The app reminds the user to take a dose of their medication at a certain time. The user is rewarded with gold coins in the app if they take their medication. The gold coins in the app can then be redeemed for real rewards such as shopping vouchers or movie tickets.
When Elyssa analysed Perx users over six months, she found adherence rates average at almost 90%. This equates to a 30% increase in adherence rates compared to previous research within Australia.
The attractive feature of Perx is that something as simple as taking your medication can translate into real-life perks.
“We’re still in the process of researching this area, but what we’ve learned so far is that maybe the key to our better health is by giving our patients the tools to participate in it. To give them a challenge but to also reward them.”
“If we make our health more of a fun game, it’s a game we’ll play to win!”