Redefining Physical Therapy with Gamification

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physical therapy

Redefining Physical Therapy

Patient experience and commitment are paramount to the rehabilitation process. Unfortunately, the road to recovery for patients going through physical therapy is a rocky one and goes uphill. It is human nature to give up when the body experiences physical pain. So it takes a heavy dose of motivation for an individual to show steady progress in physical therapy, following an episode of injury, illness or even surgery.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to make physical rehabilitation more interesting and most importantly, motivating? As it turns out, technology holds the key to making physical therapy more interesting.

Leveraging Gamification

Computer games rank high when it comes to delivering a memorable experience to the user. These games have been around for decades and today, the gaming industry stands tall as a multi-billion dollar venture. It is set to metamorphose into something more than just an avenue for entertainment. The healthcare industry has begun to leverage the rich and immersive nature of computer games to help patients with their rehabilitation process.

Numerous global healthcare Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) have successfully introduced the enthralling experience of 3D games to physiotherapy and this effort has started showing promising results. Through dedicated research and development in biomechanics and advanced software engineering techniques such as image recognition and machine learning, some healthcare technology companies such as Reflexion Health, Gesture Tek Health, to name a few, have found ways to make physical therapy more engaging and rewarding.

Their set up is made up of personalized computer systems that are driven by video cameras and advanced software components that work in tandem with a 3D modeled world. From simple games like kicking a football to throwing a punch to score points, these physical therapy games get patients to stretch their arms and legs to rack up arcade-style points. Patients complete their exercise requirements for the day and enjoy the entire experience as well.

 How Patients Are Receiving It

Jintronix, a leading player in the healthcare gamification market, has shared numerous customer testimonials of its patients who have used its systems. The Canadian technology outfit’s offering has been a huge hit in rehabilitation centers and physiotherapy clinics. Senior citizens, in particular, have expressed delight at the level of engagement that Jintronix’s solution offers.

The score-based reward system of the technology delivers an immersive experience to these patients, something which they were not quite familiar with. This enhanced experience exudes competitiveness and eagerness in these patients, making physical therapy a pleasing experience as opposed to the ordeal that it once was.

This newfound interest in patients is very similar to the competitiveness among gamers. It is both enthralling and immersive. What was once an ordeal has quickly transformed into a fun experience for patients who were introduced to the Jintronix setup. Care facilities that have adopted the ISV’s say that patients now proactively ask therapists for more time on the therapy setup. Patients are even asking to compete with each other to reach the top of a leader board system and stay there for as long as possible.

 Just a Passing Trend?

Computer games have profound consequential effects on human psychology. When it is offered in a controlled manner, only the positives of gamification of healthcare seem to prevail. If a computer system can make something that is usually painful and monotonous like physical therapy a whole lot of fun, then care providers stand to gain credibility as progressive thinkers by adopting it.

Every effort that Post Acute Care (PAC) providers put in to bring this technology to the masses will make physical therapy more effective and beneficent. For this trend to catch up, care providers need to look beyond the conventional approach to rehabilitating a patient. Although gamification of physical therapy has a component of entertainment at its core, the positive effects of leveraging such technologies are bound to make a greater impact on patients, even the ones who were never tech-savvy.

The bottom line is that when an aspect of ‘fun’ is introduced to a hectic chore, it becomes tolerable. Adopting this approach and introducing it to new patients should be a proactive initiative of physical therapists.

What care providers have on their hands is much more than just a trend. It is slowly gathering pace as an effective means for patients to adhere to their rehabilitation process.

 The Road Ahead

 The attractiveness and the level of engagement that games designed for physical therapy offer are what drive its implementation process. Engagement is defined by a game’s ability to trigger specific physical and cognitive-behavioral patterns in a patient that is necessary for their recovery. The conjoined efforts of software developers to create such experiences and therapists in enabling patients to adapt to the experience that ‘gamified’ physical therapy is the way to move forward with the technology.

An efficient channel of communication between therapists and game designers is essential to promote gamification in the PAC setting. As care providers begin to offer therapeutic inputs, software developers can pick up on them and create models targeted at specific care outcomes.

The biggest challenge that developers would face is to be consistently innovative. Unlike game development for entertainment, they are bound by limitations that are dictated by the preference of the patients and the type of exercise that is needed to rehabilitate them. For example, for a patient who has undergone complex surgeries like a knee replacement, developers need to create game models that are focussed on exercising the knee joint.

 The Future of Healthcare Gamification

Health insurance companies are actively involving themselves with the gamification initiative by incentivizing patients for the usage of such technologies. United healthcare offered users of ‘Trio Tracker’, a fitness wearable, rewards for regular usage in 2016.

Initiatives such as these from payers will further augment the effectiveness of healthcare gamification. Customized healthcare plans that leverage technology to rehabilitate patients will promote its adoption and sustained use which will introduce patients to its benefits.

Healthcare gamification is here to stay and is bound to get more advanced as new computing technologies make their way into the healthcare industry.

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