Healthcare Gamification: How Application of Game Mechanics can Resolve Blood Donation Shortage

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Healthcare gamification or how game mechanics can be applied in real life situations to improve certain aspects.

Healthcare Gamification

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According to American Red Cross, more than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. That’s over 14 million donations a year, as against the current 9.2 million yearly donors in the U.S.

The blood donation shortage has reached a critical point now, with several elective surgeries being cancelled. Dr. Bernadine Healy, Red Cross President, even said that this shortage is one of the worst ones that the Red Cross has seen”.

A Supply Game

The reason for such a massive shortage is a simple demand and supply problem. While donations increase annually by about 3 percent, the demand keeps growing at 6 percent. Though, steps are being taken to find ways to reduce demand for blood donation using better transfusion screening and blood collection management, mostly, it is a supply game that is at play here.

The shortage of blood donors is a global issue, and most of the health and blood donation organizations have tried to come up with innovative solutions. Various methods have been used to alert the general public to this problem and to demystify the blood donation process, in order to drive people to blood donation centers. But, the issue still prevails.

If we look at the successful donation campaigns around the world, we observe that most of them have used simple  healthcare gamification techniques, targeting different groups of potential blood donors. If we categorize donors correctly, we can use game mechanics to build a system for targeted increase in blood donation within each individual category.

Donor Profiles

If we understand the different donor profiles, analyse the motivating factors for a particular type of donor, and identify what features in a gamified system, we can achieve the goal of ending blood shortage in the world. Let us begin our healthcare gamification proposal by examining the donor profiles and the underlying game mechanics that form a basis for their motivation to donate blood.

The Altruistic Donors

They donate blood to help others and consider this act as a contribution to society. They do not expect any tangible benefits or rewards. We can identify 2 subsets of such donors.

1. The Good Samaritan 

Healthcare Gamification

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He donates blood when the opportunity arises. He knows the value of contributing towards a good cause. He is primarily motivated by extrinsic factors of helping others in his community and doing good for a greater cause. From this perspective, the action is driven by a meaning.

In the gamification context, the concept of EPIC MEANING is a powerful game mechanic, which is defined as a way to motivate players if they believe they are working to achieve something great, something awe-inspiring, and something bigger than themselves. Video games, especially RPGs like Final Fantasy and World Of Warcraft, owe much of their success to this game mechanic. In the real world as well, some of the most memorable blood donation campaign taglines are built on the motivation that underlines EPIC MEANING. Here are a few examples.

  • If you’re a blood donor, you’re a hero to someone, somewhere, who received your gracious gift of life.
  • Donation of Blood means a few minutes to you but a lifetime for somebody else.
  • Tears of a mother cannot save her Child. But your Blood can.
  • A few drops of your Blood can help a life to bloom.

2. The Community Leader

Healthcare Gamification

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By donating blood, he too believes that he is doing good for a greater cause. But, to him the social status of being a donor also counts. Getting acknowledged for his good deeds is a big factor in his role as a blood donor. Recognition and acknowledgement of his good deed is the extrinsic motivation factor for him.

Gamification theory suggests ACHIEVEMENTS and STATUS as the mechanics at play here. ACHIEVEMENTS are a virtual or physical representation of having accomplished something. The accomplishments are often viewed as their own reward, often represented by badges, trophies, or medals (digital or virtual). Like in this Facebook badge created by the Australian Red Cross for a social media campaign, that allowed blood donors to showcase their badges and encourage their friends to do the same.

The Captive Donors

They don’t donate blood easily, or do so only when facing a no choice situation. We can separate such people into 2 subsets as well.

1. The Paranoid Donor 

Healthcare Gamification

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He is the guy who faints at the sight of a syringe. He’s the friend, or cousin who starts sweating just thinking about blood. No amount of rational discussions can convince him to go forget his fears.

In gamification parlance, SHELL GAME is a very interesting game mechanic that can be used to help him overcome his fears. Defined as a game in which the player is presented with the illusion of choice but is actually in a situation that guides them to the desired outcome of the operator. It effectively uses the illusion of choice to divert focus from the pain points. In fact, it has already been used in the health industry in order to seamlessly apply treatments to reluctant patients. This paper submitted by Ohio University’s Department of Psychology, concludes that audiovisual distraction during blood donation may be an effective means of reducing vasovagal reactions in donors who prefer to cope with stress using strategies such as distraction, denial, and reinterpretation.

2. The Wallflower

He is almost indifferent about the issue. He has nothing against donating blood, but won’t say yes to walking into the donation booth straight away. He needs additional incentives to go and donate blood. Doing good deeds are not important to him. But if he does, he expects something in return for his contribution.

LOTTERY is a very simple, yet effective game mechanic that has been successfully used to give additional incentives to blood donors. In the LOTTERY mechanic, a winner is determined solely by chance. This creates a high level of anticipation. The fairness is often suspect, however winners will generally continue to play indefinitely while losers will quickly abandon the game, despite the random nature of the distinction between the two. In May, 2013, the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee launched Super Community Blood Drive, a campaign to raise awareness about the critical need for Blood Donations in New York and New Jersey. The mechanics are are simple; every person who donates blood as part of the campaign will receive a red Super Community Blood Drive wristband (ACHIEVEMENTS), as well as the opportunity to win tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII (LOTTERY). In less than 6 months, the campaign generated 217,386 donations. It is already a remarkably successful application of healthcare gamification.

An Idea To Get Even The Paranoids To Donate Blood

We believe The Paranoids can be motivated to donate blood by combining the game mechanics of VIRALITY, PRIDE, STATUS, and DISINCENTIVE. We call this healthcare gamification concept Blood Chain.

The idea is to create a scenario where we motivate The Good Samaritans to refer other people to donate blood, as part of a community activity (VIRALITY). We draw up leaderboards for each community (STATUS) and put them in competition with other communities (PRIDE), using the power of social networking and digital communities. This way, we create parallel Blood Chains in different communities. A person who gets referred by a donor, but chooses not to donate gets highlighted in the Blood Chain, as having broken the Chain in the community. This leverages the DISINCENTIVE of losing face in the community, and being responsible for decreasing the community’s status in the cross community competition. In this scenario, whenever The Paranoid gets referred to within the Blood Chain, which is inevitable because of their large numbers, he will be compelled to go and donate blood. We will also ensure that the appropriate game mechanic (FREE LUNCH, SHELL GAME) is used to ensure his ease of donation. By putting his own pride and status at risk within his community, we will be able to ensure that the chances of The Paranoid donating blood increases manifold.

Select And Play

We have seen healthcare gamification in action in the real world, in the examples above. To influence behaviours for good causes can be done through healthcare gamification. We believe this concept opens up a whole new world of opportunity for social entrepreneurs to come in and solve some of the major problems the world faces today. This opportunity to participate in the process of social change is open to anyone who believes in a better future for all of us. We know we can’t get everybody to donate blood tomorrow, but we can try. The key is to start by focusing on one category of non donors, in one campaign, based on their behavioural motivations. We can expand to other categories as the movement catches on. There are no more excuses left for not getting involved in the process of global change. The theories, tools, and systems are already present. All that remains is for us to step up to this challenge. So, C’mon! We know you’ve got it in you!

What do you think about healthcare gamification? Do you know any other situation which could be improved through gamification? Check out more examples of healthcare gamification here!

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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