The rise of gamification in healthcare marketing!

“It’s about pharma and fun. This is not an oxymoron. You can have the two in the same sentence.” (John Pugh, Director of Digital Communications, Boehringer Ingelheim)

Pugh was, of course, talking about ‘Syrum’ – the long-awaited Facebook game designed by German company Boehringer Ingelheim to improve disease awareness and public understanding of the pharmaceutical industry. The game will see players compete to develop lifesaving medicines in their own virtual laboratories.

Syrum is one of a handful of games being name-dropped as the hottest trend in digital healthcare communications.

Gamification, according to Dominic Tyer, Managing Editor of Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe (PME), goes beyond pure entertainment and has “real practical applications for pharma”.

“At its heart, gamification seeks to tap into our ingrained urge to play with, or succeed within, a defined set of rules. It’s about harnessing some of the core aspects of successful games – immersion, interaction, feedback, goals and competition – to create more engaging content,” agrees Alastair McQueen of digital marketing agency, eBee.

McQueen was one of the brains behind the award-winning GlaxoSmithKline game, ‘Paper to Patient’. This training tool was aimed at educating 10,000 healthcare professionals (HCPs) about major policy changes in the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Inspired, apparently, by ‘90s Tamagotchi toys, ‘Paper to Patient’ challenges players to put their COPD knowledge to the test on virtual patients. McQueen argues that the gaming mechanics encouraged over 15,000 HCPs to successfully engage with ‘otherwise dense’ subjects. Judges at last year’s Pharmaceutical Marketing Excellence Awards called it “an innovative approach to a very real problem”.

Other healthcare games have been designed to educate patients. Pfizer’s football-themed ‘Back in Play’ helps players to spot the signs of ankylosing spondylitis. While some games have even solved pressing health problems — ‘Foldit’, developed by the University of Washington, managed to decipher the crystal structure of a protein that causes Aids in rhesus monkeys.

PharmaVille might still be a few years off, but it’s clear that gamification, when thoughtfully applied, has enormous potential for healthcare communications. And in healthcare there is a reason for these games to exist beyond pure marketing and money.

PME’s ‘How to’ Guide to Gamification’ sums it up nicely: “As with any emerging discipline there are many ways that it could develop but at the very heart of gamification are some basic truths: people like challenges, they love rewards and they certainly enjoy sharing their success.”

The technology may be new then, but the principles of gaming are as old as time.

Read more:

PM Live, Gamification in pharma, July 2011

PM Live, Award-winning Digital projects, December 2011

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Boehringer Ingelheim, Syrum

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