Gaming for health: How tech can help young people come to terms with illness

Dom Raban, CEO of Xploro, and Pamela Kato, former CEO of HopeLab and owner of P. M. Kato Consulting, will be talking about their efforts at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European conference this May.
By Tammy Lovell
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Update: The HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference has been postponed. Read more here.

When Corporation Pop managing director Dom Raban’s 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, he was shocked by the lack of information for children about the condition.

“The hospital care she got was really good, but she had virtually no information about the people she would meet, the environment she would be treated in, and the technology used to treat her,” he tells MobiHealthNews.

After his daughter’s recovery, Raban came up with the idea for Xploro, a health information platform that uses games, augmented reality and artificial intelligence to reduce stress and anxiety about medical procedures. Data from the app also feeds into a management portal for clinicians.

“We thought about how we could deliver information to children in an age-appropriate way that would make them feel involved,” says Raban.

Corporation Pop worked with charities CLIC Sargent, Bone Cancer Research Trust and Cancer Research UK to build a knowledge base around cancers, as well as doing their own research in oncology wards. 

Involving children in the process of developing the platform was vital to ensure it met their needs and the firm consulted Year 10 children about the best format to deliver health information.

“It was clear that whatever we did needed to be mobile focused and have a gaming element, so we started to evolve the technology based on children’s feedback,” Raban explains. 

Young people have been involved every step of the process, from user needs analysis in a hospital setting of early protypes, to lab-based user testing.

The company has also formed an ‘expert advisory board’ of 10 to 17-year-olds, which meets three times a year to feedback on Xploro. 

Currently the platform is available at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust and will soon be in use at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, both in England. CLIC Sargent also distribute licenses across UK cancer units. Discussions are underway about a possible rollout in Spain, Germany and the US.

Serious gaming

When creating games to improve health outcomes for young people, it is important to speak their language, according to health psychologist and serious games specialist Pamela Kato.

“You have to communicate differently with kids. That’s why serious games are great because they really focus on visuals and simple interactions,” she says.

As CEO of non-profit organisation HopeLab, Kato led the research and development for Re-Mission – a game to help young people with cancer adhere to their treatment. More than 250,000 copies have been distributed in 81 countries since 2006, with patients using the game found to maintain higher levels of chemotherapy in their blood and be more likely to take their antibiotics.

More recently, Kato was involved in the creation of the game Plan+it Commander which aims to improve organisational and social skills of young people with ADHD. A randomised trial in the Netherlands carried out over 20 weeks showed that the intervention had a positive effect on behaviour reported by parents and teachers.

“Games are really good for engaging people with difficult problems because you can visually convey complexity in a game world,” Kato says.

Raban and Kato will both be speaking at the Kids 2.0 session at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European conference in May. 

The HIMSS and Health 2.0 European conference will be returning to Helsinki from 26-28 May this year, welcoming over 3,000 healthcare leaders and over 200 speakers under one roof. More information about it can be found here.

MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.

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Ralf-Gordon Jahns (pictured on the right) is the Managing Director of Research2Guidance, a leading market analyst and strategy consultancy company for the global digital health market.

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