Dr. Mahiben Maruthappu, co-founder of Revere Care, writes:
Like a blast from the past, Pokémon Go has swept smartphone users off their couches, across streets, hunting for virtual creatures night and day. At first glance it seems illogical. But the success of Pokemon Go is a great illustrator of what technology can do to help people stay fit and get healthy – across all ages.
Chronic physical conditions such as obesity and diabetes cost the NHS over £10 billion a year. Today, 5 million people in the UK are at high risk of type 2 diabetes; a condition that can be largely prevented with appropriate diet and exercise. But in order to do so people have to change their lifestyles, getting serious about food, smoking, physical activity and alcohol – this is where Pokémon Go could be an interesting case study for the future.
A few years ago, wearable pedometers were launched by Fitbit and Jawbone, allowing not only serious athletes, but also those suffering from illness and health problems to measure their efforts, from time spent walking or running, to steps taken and calories burnt.
It was even suggested that these gadgets encouraged people to exercise more.
This is exactly what’s happened with Pokémon Go. Users are seeing up to a 40% increase in the steps they take every day. With over 100 million downloads, and more than 20 million daily users, a significant proportion of Pokemon Go users are now exceeding their recommended 10,000 daily steps. It’s even been suggested that the game has had a bigger impact on public health than countless other public prevention initiatives.
There’s much to be learned from this global phenomenon. From building a convenient App that seamlessly flows from a person’s phone, to effective use of augmented reality, to neat behaviour change mechanisms that ‘gamify’ and ‘stickify’ lifestyle modification while actually making it fun. The potential is tremendous; and now is the time for healthcare to learn from these successes.
In the same way Pokémon Go has increased physical activity over the summer, the NHS should crack how to reduce attendances this winter, and combat obesity. Using just what Pokémon Go has taught us, we need to engage patients in self-care and A&E avoidance, through enjoyable and digital programs designed to help patients to care for themselves in the long term.
Pokémon Go has provided plenty of creatures to catch and plenty of food for thought. Healthcare has always lagged behind other sectors when it comes to technology – it’s time to learn and get ahead of the curve, instead of always playing catch up. Augmented reality is a start, but Pokémon Go behavioural theory and better use of our smartphones may hold the key to beating obesity and creating a more sustainable NHS.”