The case for gamifying pediatric chronic condition management

For the more than 21 million children living with chronic conditions, adherence to these types of treatment plans and medication regimens is an indelible daily part of their young lives.

What do we think of when we think of childhood? Perhaps it’s memories of sleepovers with new friends, carefree summer days spent exploring outdoors, or playing pickup games at the park. Less likely are thoughts of monitoring blood sugar levels, analyzing peak oxygen flow, or tracking daily caloric intake. Unfortunately, for the more than 21 million children living with chronic conditions, adherence to these types of treatment plans and medication regimens is an indelible daily part of their young lives.

For adults and children alike, rates of chronic conditions – such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and other behavioral health and learning disorders – have been steadily on the rise for decades. These illnesses often necessitate frequent, costly hospital visits, recurrent prescription use, and may indirectly impact educational and employment prospects. In addition to these outsized personal costs, recent estimates place the national expenditure on chronic conditions at $3.7 trillion.

This mind boggling number alone indicates a national crisis, one that those of us in healthcare and healthcare technology are devoted to solving. For those of us focused primarily on the well-being of children and our future generations, we are determined to make an impact by supporting pediatric efforts to build foundational health early in life. We can – and should – pool our collective resources to develop new pediatric care practices to support healthy habits, such as regular check-ups, monitoring and medical protocol adherence, and helpful mental health exercises.

Unless we act now to intervene and help pave a new path toward a healthier tomorrow, scores of youth will grow up with worsening chronic conditions. It is high time to invest in foundational health, to help kids build healthier habits today so that they can more readily develop into healthier and happier adults.

While the task is daunting, we can prioritize new approaches that directly engage youth in their care journeys. One method worth prioritizing is gamification and the promotion of fun – if we are determined to build routines around oxygen and sugar levels, monitoring these numbers should not feel entirely like a chore. What if with each registered reading or emotional prompt response, a kid could unlock 15 minutes of play time within a popular new game, or test exciting new 3D modeling software? By injecting joy into daily clinical protocol to incentivize healthy habits and galvanize early self-care, I believe youth will be more likely to attend their wellness visits and follow medication or self-care regimens.

One major area of focus for pediatricians right now is encouraging regular wellness check-ups for children aged eight to twelve, a cohort that is especially critical to monitor. At this stage, there are a lot of healthy development checkpoints to cover, from blood sugar levels to spine curvature, activity levels, and emotional health. At these check-ups, pediatricians can monitor and recommend interventions for those at-risk of developing an early chronic condition, or prescribe necessary medication and care tips to maintain health and restrict progression. All too often today attendance is poor, resulting in potential delays in diagnosis or care, with long-term consequences.

We can make an outsized impact by uncovering ways to incentivize these visits and engage children within their own early care journeys. It is up to us to pilot programs that test new methods of compliance among youth, to learn whether access to a new game release or a 3D visualization tool at their pediatrician’s office – or receiving a code to play at home after attending a check-up – would help move the needle. We owe it to our children – and to ourselves – to invest in these efforts now to make a change.

We believe that healthy children grow into healthy adults. By creating technology to support independent pediatric practices and those on the front lines of providing unparalleled foundational care for future generations, we can help curb rising rates of chronic conditions, better manage symptoms, and promote healthier, happier lifestyles for the long-term. Gamification is the next horizon for instilling healthy habits early on when it matters most. At today’s crossroads, we know it is imperative to pursue these exciting new methods of monitoring, treating, and whenever possible, preventing chronic conditions among our youth.

Bethany Williams is VP of Product Development at Office Practicum, a leading pediatric EHR, RCM, and practice management platform. She is spearheading a partnership with the Institute for Pediatric Innovation, the nonprofit Gamechanger, and Intermountain to pilot gamification programs that move the needle on pediatric chronic care management.