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Stop playing games with health

Recently, there have been many articles in the news about people and companies trying to find innovative solutions for health care problems. I came across an interesting article on CNN on ideas that would revolutionise health care. The author, Ryan Bradley sat in on a case competition at Boston University’s School of Management and discovered that sometimes the most useful ideas may be the most simple and serious ones.

The event played out over two days, during which 15 teams of five students from B-schools all over the world — India, South Korea, Canada, but mostly the U.S. — pitched their ideas for a company, one that would revolutionise health care: “to leverage information technology to transform global health care and create value”. The competition was sponsored by Merck  and Microsoft  and the team with the best idea received a check for US$ 22,500 and the support of two multinational corporations to start up their startup.

The theme was games. “How do we gamify health care?”, after listing off the growing toll chronic diseases take in both developed and developing nations.  In this article, he mentions a shocking diabetes statistic that in India, “only 50% are aware they have the disease, 50% of that group have access to treatment, and just 50% again adhere to their treatment, which means that about 50% again — or less than 3% — achieve some kind of normalised life”.

One of the many difficulties in treating chronic diseases is that one must adhere to a strict medical regimen and see it through to the end of its prescription. “Taking medication is no fun, but the idea that it might be made a game is, at least, as old as Mary Poppins.” As the day wore on, one of the Merck representatives asked “why would you make a game out of taking a pill? This will never be fun.” The goal, the Microsoft and Merck judges all agreed, was to create an experience that requires as little input from the patient as possible. If a user must list their meal, or record what they take, when they take it, well, all of this is an opportunity to lie to their phone, or simply skip one of many steps the app demanded.

The surprise? A winner was announced by the end of day two, when a team presented an idea startlingly different from all the others. It wasn’t a piece of software at all, but a backpack, filled with durable hardware (solar powered battery charger, lensless microscope, blood diagnostic tests, pulse oximeter) for collecting vital, and valuable, health data. The team was focused on collecting data from the developing world, where much of the population goes unrecorded, but the concept would work in the U.S., too, or anywhere else with people who have limited access to health services.

The clinic in a bag won the case competition. Not only was it the most tangible solution to a real problem, but it was the most serious.

As he said in the end of the article, “sometimes, when there’s a job to be done, trying to find that element of fun can get in the way of real, boots on the ground work”.

To read this entire article, please click here.

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