• Ari Mostov

Why Gamification Won’t Solve Treatment Adherence

Browsing the App Store for treatment adherence applications, you will find dozens of products. While many boast appealing user interfaces and encouraging pop up notifications, these health application


s do not solve the problem they were designed for: adherence.


And while there are many nuances to the challenges of treatment adherence, I believe one of the biggest struggles is the lack of user engagement. People aren’t motivated to use these apps.


Many have tried to remedy user disengagement by borrowing techniques from the gaming industry. And who can blame them


when there’re over 2 billion mobile gamers worldwide? But even then, treatment adherence apps with gamification features such as Wellth and Mango Health haven’t broken through the noise.


Gamification won't solve treatment adherence.



Not on its own.


Many digital health technologists are eager to add leaderboards and levels to their apps, but they are still missing the key ingredient for a successful experience: the story.



Let’s step back and look at adherence from a larger perspective. Taking your medication properly is a loaded task. It’s not as simple as turning on the TV or texting with your friends. It has a lot of emotional baggage. If we’re receiving treatment, there must be something wrong with us, or why would we need it in the first place? Taking medication as directed requires an acknowledgement that something needs to change. A decision that is usually overwhelming and hard to understand when you’re not an MD. Having an application populate your screen with digital confetti each time you take a pill seems like a poor band-aid to a bigger, deeper issue. Gamified adherence apps know that dopamine rushes are useful, but they’re missing the bigger issue: the emotional journey.


What’s the relevance of taking your treatment today? How does it help you? Why do you need this treatment in the first place?


What’s the story?


For health seekers in a treatment program, chances are the story that you’re in sucks. It’s not fun, it’s disempowering and it makes you feel like a failure.


But what if your treatment adherence program immersed you in a new story? One where you feel capable, connected and confident?


Ask any gamer why they play games and they’ll give you a slew of answers--fun, friendship, world building, challenge etc.


In games, players have the agency and power to make their own decisions, exploring their story world with others and gradually progressing in skill set and achievement.


Medication adherence is the total opposite: patients are victims of disease; unsure if the treatment will work and if they’re making progress. Health is an abstract concept, irrelevant if we don't understand what’s wrong and how the treatment will fix it.


As we seek new, better solutions for treatment adherence its time to consider what story health seekers are experiencing. How can digital health apps improve comprehension and confidence? Instead of relying on gamification to solve adherence, we need to look at the treatment experience through the eyes of a game player; building an experience that activates agency, encourages world exploration and allows players to be the heroes of their health story.


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