Can Health Technology Make You Feel SuperBetter?

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Can Health Technology Make You Feel SuperBetter?

A part of the Affordable Care Act is a mandate to increase patient engagement with their health (

But in an era where the average length of a doctor visit is 19 minutes (, during which the doctor will typically conduct a physical exam, ask about any medications you’re taking, write new prescriptions, make sure you’re up-to-date with your cancer screening tests, review your vitals (i.e., your high blood pressure, increasing weight, and sky-rocketing cholesterol), after which the doctor will then discuss how to improve your diet, suggest you lose weight and exercise more… Where is the room for increased patient engagement?

This is where health technology comes in. Healthcare IT entrepreneurs started developing innovative platforms to improve patient engagement through targeted messaging, appointment reminders, automated phone calls, coupons, rewards, customized analytics, and the list goes on.

But I have one question. Where is the “patient” in this effort to increase patient engagement? With these approaches, the patient is only a passive recipient of information… some of which is bound to be unwanted, even annoying or, in the worst case scenario, a deterrent to engaging in the prescribed healthy behavior.

Instead of spending your time deleting automated email reminders from your inbox, wouldn’t you rather be playing a game? Jane McGonigal, a lifelong gamer, didn’t intend to create a way for patients to become more engaged with their own health. But that was before she fell down and hit her head… and didn’t get better (see her Ted talk for the whole story,

Jane had a concussion that wasn’t healing, so she had to rest her brain… completely. No reading, writing, video games, work, email… After 3 months, Jane realized that she was either going to kill herself, or make a game out of it. So she created a role-playing recovery game called “Jane the Concussion Slayer.” This was Jane’s secret identity. And best of all, to ask for help, all she had to do was ask her family and friends to play a game with her.

The game was simple — adopt a secret identity, recruit allies, activate power-ups, & battle the bad guys. The bad guys were anything that could trigger symptoms. Power-ups were anything that, even on Jane’s worst days, could make her feel just a little bit better, like cuddling with her dog, getting out of bed and walking around the block just once, or even brushing her teeth.

Within a couple of days, Jane’s depression disappeared. Her symptoms from the concussion didn’t go away, but the suffering did.

Jane wondered if the game could help others the same way it helped her, so she put it online. She renamed the game SuperBetter, and people started playing. People with cancer, chronic pain, depression, even a terminal diagnosis, reported felling stronger and braver, better understood by their friends and family, and even felt happier, despite their pain.

Discover your own inner Super Hero.  Go to… and kick some bad guy ass for me.

Julie Hope Goldberg, PhD

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