Turning Work into a Game: Is it Time for Gamification in Clinical Trials?

Posted: May 26, 2016 | By: Zikria Syed


Oxford Dictionaries defines gamification as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

Sounds like a novel concept? It’s not. Gamification is pervasive in our everyday lives without us ever realizing it. For example:

  • Starbucks has one of the most successful loyalty programs in the world and it attributes its success to gamification. It cleverly incorporates gaming concepts alongside convenient payments to infuse elements of fun and engagement. Members accumulate points, achieve higher level of membership, and redeem points for free food, drinks, and drink refills. Customers are randomly presented with downloadable songs and freebees to increase engagement. Starbucks loyalty members spend three times as much as non-members, according to the company.
  • Nike was perhaps the first mainstream brand to introduce gamification to improve fitness goals through the Nike+ Fuel Band (a digital wristband to monitor movement and activity). Today the market is flush with fitness trackers and bands like Fitbit for people seeking out a healthier lifestyle.
  • Apple, on the other hand, is cleverly exploiting gamification on the iPhone by providing activity tracking through its Health App. This brings it to the mainstream consumer without the purchase of additional products.

Starbucks, Nike and Apple are not alone in this trend as many retailers including Duane Reade, Whole Foods and The Home Shopping Network (HSN) routinely use gamification to drive sales and customer engagement.

Gamification is not limited to retailers nor consumer oriented businesses. In the enterprise, learning and sales are two of the most common scenarios where gamification has been successfully deployed. According to a Harvard Business Review article, How Deloitte Made Learning a Game, Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) saw a 37% increase in users returning to the site after implementation of gamification in the online training portal used by over 20,000 executive users. Enterprise software vendors such as Oracle, SAP and Salesforce support gamification in their products and report increasing usage and success by their customers.

In life sciences, several pharmaceutical companies have used games to encourage disease management in patients. Sanofi launched an app for children with Type 1 diabetes that educates them on the disease. Sanofi launched another app “Monster Manor”, which encourages players to regularly test and record their blood glucose levels. Sanofi was not alone in this as Boehringer Ingleheim, in collaboration with Eli Lilly, launched an app called “Complications Combat” to educate patients on behaviors that can exacerbate their conditions.

While experts may disagree on deployment projections, there is a consensus that gamification improves engagement and encourages healthy competition and positive behavior change leading to improved results.

That brings us to clinical trials. While there is scant documented evidence of gamification usage in clinical trials, the clinical trial setting presents an excellent opportunity to use gamification to improve performance and reduce costs. Here are three potential areas to explore:

Patient recruitment, education and engagement

Rewarding patients for signing up for a trial, learning about their condition and treatments and participating and engaging in timely manner are good places to start. Patients can be rewarded by simply visual feedback (starts, badges, etc.) or they could earn material rewards. This is even more relevant in eCOA trials where data is being collected directly from the patients.

Investigator and Site training

The Deloitte Learning Academy (DLA) case study provides a good template for how gamification can improve the effectiveness of Investigator and Site training by using missions, badges and leaderboards alongside videos, in-depth training, quizzes, and tests to encourage participation and a sense of competition.

Trial Management

This is the least obvious and most sensitive area to explore gamification but arguably provides the best potential for return on investment. Exposing clinical trial teams to metrics, leaderboards, and other fun activities as they undertake everyday tasks can improve performance and quality of clinical trials.

While adoption of gamification in the enterprise feels more like an evolution than a revolution, it no doubt provides a fresh and welcome approach to improving engagement and productivity in an otherwise grueling and repetitive work environment. Are you ready to give gamification a chance? Chime in with comments and thoughts.


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