Games Patients Play
By Carrie Johnson
In this article…
Check out ways that gaming and social media are
bringing physicians and patients closer together.
Looking back now, Aaron Ford can’t believe there was
a time when he couldn’t stay sober long enough to report to
his job at a Fortune 500 company.
The father of triplet boys was a graduate of a Big 10
engineering school and the director of sales for British
Petroleum. But a crippling addiction to alcohol threatened
to wipe out everything he had: friends, family, and job.
Luckily, Ford got help. He checked into Brighton Center
for Recovery, a world-renowned treatment facility. But his
rehabilitation didn’t end at the end of his 18-day hospital
stay. It simply shifted to the digital world.
Ford was one of the early users of a site called
OneRecovery.com, which uses a blend of social media and
game mechanics to assist patients with their treatment
plans. Founded originally to help drug and alcohol addicts
and people with eating disorders, the company is planning
to expand to help those struggling with depression, diabetes
and other diseases.
OneRecovery is an online community where patients
can write about their experiences, post status updates,
participate in live chats, and earn rewards for good behavior. It’s much like the popular social network site Facebook
except it’s HIPPA compliant, built on clinical principles, and
uses trained clinicians to serve as moderators.
Ford has met people from across the country and all
over the world on OneRecovery. He logs in almost every
day to post on his blog, check in with friends and reach
out to newcomers who may be in need of a helping hand.
Maintaining contacts such as these and helping others is a
big part of a successful recovery plan, he said.
“I think it’s an incredible tool,” said Ford, 50. “It’s really
helped me maintain my sobriety, especially given how busy I
am. It’s a great place where I can continuously give back.”
The network automatically suggests friends, picking
people who have similar characteristics and experiences.
The community also offers the opportunity to play online
games and offers awards for behavior that will keep the
addict sober. For example, making 10 friends earns a user
a gold medallion. Introducing others to a newcomer merits
another badge. The site also maintains a sobriety clock that
allows others to see how long a user has gone without drugs
Ford said the clock is a powerful tool.
“You don’t want to have to log back on and reset that
clock,” Ford said. “If you do, it sends an announcement to
the entire community. That recovery clock is huge to me,
because hopefully you’ve formed a bond with these people
and you don’t want to let them down.”
OneRecovery is just one of a growing number of
health-related organizations turning to social media
and online games to educate, support, and even treat
patients. According to a recent study by the Pew Internet
and American Life Project, more than 61 percent of all
Americans have turned to the Internet for health informa-
tion. As the number of people who go online for health
purposes continues to grow, so too does the number of
web sites, online games, and social communities aimed at
helping them. With the explosion in mobile technology and
Smartphone-accessible applications, the opportunities for
outreach have multiplied.
Laura Clapper, MD, MPPA, CPE, an ACPE member
since 2007, thinks the trend is long overdue. Clapper is
OneRecovery’s chief medical officer and an early advocate
for the use of social media and online games in health care.
“The world has changed,” she said. “Yet in health care,
we haven’t changed with it. Most of us really haven’t said,
‘This is an amazing tool, how do we incorporate it in what
we do to increase the connection with our patients and help
support the work we need to get done in an efficient way?’”