During a panel at this week’s GamesBeat Summit, several experts in the field talked about the rise of digital entertainment as a new form of treatment. More specifically, they spoke about how video games can be used for a variety of healthcare applications, including neurological illnesses and even patient care. The panelists were Eddie Martucci, the CEO and co-founder of Akili Interactive, Mirelle Phillips, the founder of Studio Elsewhere and Laura Tabacof, assistant professor of rehabilitation at Mount Sinai. Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, moderated the panel.
Martucci’s studio, Akili, produces EndeavorRx, produces an FDA-approved video game treatment for children with ADHD. As Martucci said, getting a game approved as a medical treatment was not easy: “The path was to take it all the way through clinical trials, so we’ve done large-scale clinical trials just like you’d expect from a pharmaceutical product. We took it to the FDA’s two-year review process for the first time and EndeavorRx is still the only FDA-approved video game out there. It was a long journey, took a long time and I think there’s lot we can learn now going forward.”
Pierre-Louis spoke about the use of gaming and VR technology on pain management, and Tabacof concurred that traditional treatments are no longer the only option. “Patients are desperate for these types of approaches. 20% of the American population lives with chronic pain, and only 10% actually feel any relief with traditional methods, so it’s our role to provide better options and technology is here for it. We ran a few clinical trials at Mount Sinai and the results have been outstanding for virtual reality and chronic pain.”
Better living through video games
Phillips said that open world games offer patients a glimpse of non-linear paths and shows them that a setback in care doesn’t always put them back at square one: “Everybody is on a healthcare journey and I think what games do that we’re applying is that they show you there’s a map. At the heart of interactivity is agency. So it’s fundamentally shifting the dynamics within healthcare and medicine as something that’s not just this paternalistic relationship between provider and patient. It’s something that essentially is bucking the entire system by giving agency where it’s desperately needed.”
Tabacof noted that the brain plays a major role in chronic pain, and gaming makes for a better solution than the still widely-prescribed opioid medications. “One of the main issues is the top-down model where doctors will just prescribe something for stress management or anxiety or tell patients ‘Hey, why don’t you breathe?’ But we need to give tools to patients to learn how to breathe. Technology’s here to empower the patients and put them first.”
Martucci added that one of the great benefits of video games is that they can offer fun. “In the moment, we want patients to forget that they’re using a medicine product and [feel] that they’re just playing a fun video game … I’m hoping that what we learned in the process and the design allows us and hopefully other companies to have legs to bring many of these types of products to people over the coming years.”
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