Gaming is an unconventional new medical resource

Gaming is an unconventional new medical resource

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During a panel at this week’s GamesBeat Summit, several experts in the field spoke about the rise of digital entertainment as a new form of treatment. More specifically, they talked about how video games can be used for a variety of healthcare applications, including neurological diseases and even patient care. The panelists were Eddie Martucci, the CEO and co-founder of Akili Interactive, Mirelle Phillips, the founder of Studio Elsewhere and Laura Tabacof, assistant professor of rehabilitation at Mount Sinai. Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, moderated the panel.

Martucci’s studio, Akili, manufactures EndeavorRx, an FDA-approved video game treatment for children with ADHD. As Martucci said, getting a game approved as a medical treatment wasn’t easy: “The path was to take it all the way through clinical trials, so we did large-scale clinical trials just like you would from a pharmaceutical product would expect. We took it to the FDA’s two-year review process for the first time and EndeavorRx is still the only FDA-approved video game out there. It’s been a long journey, taken a long time and I think there’s a lot which we can now learn going forward.”

Pierre-Louis talked about the use of games and VR technology on pain management, and Tabacof agreed that traditional treatments are no longer the only option. “Patients are desperate for these types of approaches. 20% of the US population lives with chronic pain, and only 10% actually feel any relief with traditional methods, so it’s our role to provide better options and technology is here for that. We conducted some clinical trials at Mount Sinai and the results were excellent for virtual reality and chronic pain.”

Live better through video games

Phillips said open-world games offer patients a glimpse into non-linear pathways and show them that a setback in care doesn’t always put them first: “Everyone is on a health care journey and I think what games do we” again apply is that they show you there is a map. At the heart of interactivity is agency. So it’s fundamentally shifting the dynamics within health care and medicine as something that’s not just this paternalistic relationship between provider and patient. It is something that essentially stops the whole system by giving agency where it is most needed.”


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Tabacof noted that the brain plays a major role in chronic pain, and play makes a better solution than the still commonly prescribed opioid medication. “One of the main issues is the top-down model where doctors will just prescribe something for stress management or anxiety or tell patients ‘Hey, why aren’t you breathing?’ But we need to give tools to patients to learn how to breathe. Technology is here to empower the patients and put them first.”

Martucci added that one of the great benefits of video games is that they can be fun. “At the moment, we want patients to forget that they are using a medicine product and [feel] that they’re just playing a fun video game … I hope that what we’ve learned in the process and the design allows us and hopefully other companies to have legs to bring many of these types of products to people over the coming years.”

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