Can Gamification in Mobile Health Apps Lead to Improved Patient Engagement?

The world of healthcare is fast-evolving, and technology is playing a crucial role in this change. With the advent of mobile health apps, managing one’s health has moved beyond the confines of hospitals and into the palm of our hands. But how do we ensure these apps are not merely digital pamphlets that gather dust in the corner of our smartphone screens? This is where gamification comes in, offering an innovative solution to drive patient engagement. Let’s delve into the world of gamification in health apps and how it can enhance patient adherence and engagement.

The Concept of Gamification

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a moment to understand what gamification is. It might sound like a high-tech term, but it’s quite simple. Gamification is the application of game-design elements in non-game contexts. So, it’s about taking the fun, addictive components of games and applying them to areas like healthcare to make engagements more enjoyable and engaging. It’s not about turning apps into games, but rather about enhancing their appeal and fostering users’ adherence.

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The goal of gamification is to create a more interactive experience that motivates users to engage with the app regularly. This could be through the use of points, badges, leaderboards, rewards, or challenges – all typical elements you’d find in your favorite video game.

Gamification and Health Apps

In a healthcare context, gamification can play an integral role in patient engagement. Importantly, it has the potential to make the process of managing health not just necessary but enjoyable. For instance, a health app could reward users with points for logging their meals, completing physical activities, or remembering to take their medication. These rewards could subsequently be exchanged for incentives, creating a sense of accomplishment and encouraging adherence to health regimes.

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The use of such strategies has been reported in multiple scholarly studies, with positive outcomes. A systematic review published on PMC as well as by JMIR, emphasized the benefits of gamified health apps, indicating an increase in patient engagement as well as adherence to medication and physical routines.

Case Studies of Successful Gamification

There are numerous examples of successful application of gamification in health apps. Let’s look at a couple of them to understand how the concept works in practice.

MySugr: This is a mobile app for managing diabetes. MySugr gamifies the process of monitoring blood sugar levels. Users can earn points by recording their meals, insulin levels, and carbohydrate intake. The app also provides immediate feedback and visualizes the patient’s health data in a fun and engaging way. By doing so, it creates an enjoyable experience, encouraging users to stay engaged and adhere to their health regime.

Zombies, Run!: This app turns the mundane task of running into a thrilling game where users are tasked with surviving a zombie apocalypse. The app provides a narrative during the run, with users collecting supplies and escaping from zombies. This has been reported to make running more enjoyable and motivated users to engage more in their physical fitness.

Barriers and Potential Solutions

Despite the promising potential of gamification in health apps, there are also challenges to be addressed. For one, not all users are gamers. Therefore, the app needs to be well-designed with a balance between gamification elements and healthcare functionalities.

Moreover, an overstuffed gamified system may deter patients who prefer simplicity. It’s crucial to remember that the primary purpose of these apps is to assist with healthcare, and the gaming elements are meant to enhance, not overshadow, that purpose.

Another significant barrier is the need for personalization. What motivates one user might not work for another. Hence, providing personalized elements and rewards can significantly improve user engagement.

In conclusion, while there are barriers to be overcome, the systematic application of gamification in health apps is certainly a path worth venturing down. With more research, innovation, and feedback from users, we can leverage gamification to create health apps that are not only useful but also engaging, fun, and highly effective in promoting patient engagement and adherence.

Impact of Gamification on Medication Adherence

Considering that medication adherence is a significant challenge in healthcare, gamification holds enormous potential. By understanding what drives human motivation and applying these principles, we can influence behavior and encourage individuals to stick to their medication schedule.

Several health apps are already making strides in this direction. For instance, Mango Health is an app that reminds patients when it’s time to take their medication. To make this process engaging, the app uses game elements such as points, rewards, and a leaderboard. Users can earn points for taking their medication on time, which they can later redeem for rewards or donate to a healthcare charity of their choice.

Similarly, PillPack, an Amazon company, offers a personalized service that organizes and delivers medication. Along with this, the company is also exploring the use of gamification to ensure adherence.

Several scholarly articles on Google Scholar, PubMed Crossref, and PMC Free have reported positive effects of such interventions. One such systematic review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research highlighted that gamification interventions significantly improved medication adherence.

However, it’s worth noting that the effectiveness of gamification largely depends on the design and execution of the game elements. They need to be tailored to the individual’s preferences and needs, thus underscoring the importance of personalization in healthcare apps.

Promoting Physical Activity through Gamification

Physical activity is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. However, motivating individuals to maintain regular physical activity can be challenging. Gamification can be instrumental in encouraging physical activity by making it fun and rewarding.

Healthcare apps such as Fitbit and Strava integrate game elements to foster physical activity. Fitbit uses badges and challenges to motivate users to achieve their fitness goals. Strava, on the other hand, has a social element where users can join challenges, share their progress, and give ‘kudos’ to others, thereby creating a sense of community and competition.

A controlled study published on PMC Free and Crossref Google highlighted that gamification led to a significant increase in physical activity among participants. Another article on PubMed Crossref noted a similar finding, adding that the impact was more pronounced when social elements were included.

Again, personalization is key. An athletic individual might be driven by competitive elements, whereas a beginner might need more encouragement and rewards for small achievements. Hence, the design of gamification elements should cater to the user’s fitness level and personal preferences.


The potential of gamification in healthcare is immense. By integrating game elements into mobile health apps, we can transform the way people manage their health, making it more enjoyable and rewarding. Gamification can be particularly beneficial in improving medication adherence and promoting physical activity.

However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that gamification is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires an understanding of human motivation and behavior, and the game elements need to be tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences.

While there are challenges, the benefits of gamification in healthcare apps far outweigh them. It is an exciting field of research and practice that deserves much attention. By leveraging gamification, we can create a future where managing health is not just a necessity but a fun and engaging activity. As we continue to explore and refine the concept, the full potential of gamification in healthcare will undoubtedly come into view.