Foundations in Personalized Health Care: How Do You Get People to Be More Active? Play!
Apr 10, 2017 10:00 AM
Roger Altizer Jr. presented his work on gaming and personalized medicine as part of the CCTS-supported Foundations in Personalized Health Care course, which was designed to introduce students to many facets of this emerging field.
Following an annual check-up, your doctor may have recommended that you increase your physical activity to lose weight and maybe lower your blood pressure. The doctor’s order is aimed at changing your behavior to improve your health, but it probably felt more like work, with the accompanying burden of tasks, timelines, and reporting. But does it have to be?
According to Roger Altizer Jr. PhD associate professor in Population Health Sciences, people are at their best — physically and psychologically the happiest and healthiest - when they are at play.
Altizer works at Center for Medical Innovation at the University of Utah Health, and his goal is to find new, creative games that can be used for health applications. “I was tasked to create a collisions space that challenges clinicians on how they think about health care,” he said. While gaming and health care seem incongruous, gaming offers an alternate approach to personalized medicine, creating new ways to monitor, treat, and maintain conditions as varied as depression, diabetes, and pain treatment.
While many are initially skeptical with this concept, Altizer believes that we all need to revert to our inner child and try to remember what it felt like to play. We didn’t think play was a waste of time then, he explains, and it isn’t now.
“Our minds and bodies like to play,” he continues. When you play, you make decisions quickly and creatively, and play provides a safe space to make mistakes and take risks.
He defined this safe space as the magic circle where the rules of normal society no longer apply. To punctuate this point, Altizer highlighted the sport of boxing. “This is a game where you are encouraged to hit someone in the face so hard they pass out, and people will pay you to do this and applaud,” he said.
Unlike the real world that is abstract and ambiguous, gaming provides immediate, concrete feedback. “People feel like they are accomplishing things when they play games,” said Altizer. However, successful gaming requires a balance between skill level and challenge. This sweet spot, called the flow channel, prevents the player from becoming bored or giving up and engages her to keep coming back for more.
Altizer points to research that shows positive physical and mental outcomes in the gamer to support the benefits of play for health care.
Games can reduce the sensation of pain.
The over prescription of pain killers is front page news, but many people, like burn patients, have a struggle managing pain. Snow World, a virtual reality game centered on an ice-covered world, was developed to help burn patients during painful treatments that scrape and stretch the skin. During the treatment, the patient lobs snowballs at snowmen and penguins to the tunes of Paul Simon. Immersed in this frozen world, patients playing the game reported needing up to 90 percent less pain medication when receiving treatment than patients not playing the game or just watching a video of the same virtual reality world.
Games also reduces anxiety and depression.
Researchers found that playing Bejeweled three times a week for only 30 minutes had the same calming effect as low-dose anti-anxiety medications, suggesting a possible alternative therapy. Researchers are not certain how the game triggers the soothing effect, but it may be related to organizing objects or simply taking a time out from the hectic activities of everyday life.Despite these successes, gaming for health is still a relatively new concept and must overcome many obstacles, but game developers continue to generate unique and ingenious ways to integrate play into health-based applications. “We need to incorporate the notation of not just working at being healthy, but playing at being healthy,” said Altizer.
Stacy W. Kish