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When you think of someone playing video games, you most likely conjure up images of acne-faced teenagers, hunkered over joy sticks, fighting off demons or virtually racing the latest Formula One cars.  But both the demographic of video games and their focus is changing.   Video games have gained acceptance across all age demographics and there is a growing wave of video games known as “Health eGames.” These video games are the next big thing to revolutionize health care.  In fact, citizens are voting with their dollars, even in the recession, buying and playing Health eGames. 


However, there is currently a huge gap between what consumers are doing in this area and the wellness and condition management programming that exists today.  In our research there are only a few examples of hospitals, health plans or wellness companies engaging with people through Health eGames.  Consumers are asking the question “Why not play for health rather than just reading about it?”  There are significant lessons for policy makers and health leaders if they just take time to observe how people today are getting active through Health eGames – from senior centers to millions of homes.  Private industry and the Federal Government have found the benefit of games and interactive learning simulations and it is time that the health care industry take note and stop lagging behind.


According to iConecto’s “Health eGames Market Report – How Video Games, Social Media and Virtual Worlds will Revolutionize Health,” there are nearly 600 health eGames and health eApps available today.  A health eGame delivers health benefits and promotes healthy behaviors, health education or professional training.  Categories of health eGames include: exer-games, which require some form of physical activity; brain games exercising cognitive functions, healthy behavior games like healthy eating and smoking cessation, and condition management games focusing on a variety of conditions from diabetes and asthma to cancer and autism.


The largest category of health eGames is the exer-game market with an estimated market size exceeding $6.2 billion.  The fastest growing exer-game on the market today is Nintendo’s Wii Fit, a console game that isn’t your typical first-person shooter game.  Instead, the Wii Fit allows you to practice a variety of yoga poses and practice strength exercises, aerobic and balance games.  Using the Wii Fit balance board, the game tracks your body mass index, encourages you to set realistic weight loss goals and tracks your progress.  Who thought video games would actually encourage you to get off the couch and start moving?  This is also true of a myriad of healthy iPhone applications (“apps”) that can track your steps, count calories, or remind you to stretch your muscles so you don’t get stiff sitting at your desk, as the popular iPump Office Stretch does.


The second largest health eGames category is brain fitness.  SharpBrains, a market research firm, estimates the size of the US brain fitness software segment was at $225 million in 2007.  Again, Nintendo is the big winner in this category with their popular selling titles “Brain Age” and “Brain Age 2” played on the Nintendo hand-held DS console.  In addition to providing challenging brain exercises, including Sudoku puzzles and a Rock, Paper, Scissor game, Brain Age provides you with an estimate of your brain’s age and you’ll want to be shooting for the ideal age of 20 years old.  I feel lucky that I’m able to reach my actual age of 45 – but I’ll keep being inspired to play more to get that age down.  Other popular brain fitness sites include Happy Neuron, Sharp Brains, and Lumosity.


Some exciting examples of health eGames in the condition management category include Hope Lab’s ReMission game, a video game that helps kids with cancer combat the disease by taking Roxxi the nanobot inside a virtual representation of the body and killing cancer cells, or Escape from Diab, a game designed to promote healthy eating and exercise for obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention.  ReMission has completed clinical trials that show a number of benefits from cancer patients playing the game and Escape from Diab is currently conducting clinical trials to show the games efficacy.


The growth of health eGames and applications are just starting to get the leaders in the healthcare industry to take notice.   The integration of games as part of the growing culture of digitally enabled wellness, PHR and care management solutions is slowly taking off.  We believe that in order to stay competitive, health care, wellness and insurance providers will have to offer online video gaming arcades on their web sites as a way to educate and engage visitors and support better health and lower health care costs.  And playing these video games is an easier pill to swallow than the dry web sites of the past. 


These are exciting times.   Stay tuned for more information on how games will become a meaningful part of health and medical care management and policy. 

by Julia Loughran, iConecto – Gaming4Health.com