Using Modern Technology to Gamify Medication Adherence

An interview with Hugo Rourke, conducted by James Ives, MPsych

Please give a general overview of medication adherence, how this affects patients and healthcare.

Medication nonadherence is the phenomenon of people not sticking to their medication. Either stopping completely before they’re supposed to, or taking it irregularly, at such a rate that it’s below the optimal level.

In developed nations one in three people have a chronic disease and yet 50% of people don’t take their medications as prescribed and that has huge health consequences.

In Australia, where I have the data, that’s 230,000 extra hospitalizations every year due to medication non-adherence and these would be avoidable if people just took their medication. Even more alarmingly, that accounts for 10,000 unnecessary deaths in Australia every year.

The problem is a big one for patients and industry because those poor outcomes cost money to the health system, to hospitals and health insurers, as well as being a lost revenue opportunity for pharmaceutical companies.

Why do patients stop taking or stop regularly taking their medication which is designed to help them?

For the vast majority of people, it’s an underlying lack of engagement with their health and an underlying failure to form a habit around taking medication. What most patients report are: “I forgot to take it at the time”, “I couldn’t be bothered taking my pills with me to lunch that day”, “I didn’t think skipping this pill would matter in the grand scheme of things.”

There are other reasons, such as side effects or beliefs around the medication not working, but for the vast majority of people it is an engagement and motivation issue and that’s why it needs to be addressed by an engaging and motivating solution, not an educational one.

Its human nature not to be compliant, this will help people who aren’t compliant”

How is Perx addressing this large problem?

Traditionally this problem was treated with information and education. Perx is very different. Perx doesn’t appeal to the perfect rational patient because these perfectly rational patients don’t exist. Patients are everyday people.

What we use are proven engagement tools like consumer promotion tactics, habit forming games and behavioral psychology to treat medication adherence as a consumer problem not a medical one.

I gotta say since Downloading this app, I haven’t missed one dose of scheduled medication.”

What that looks like in simple form, is a Perx’s smartphone app, that not only organizes and reminds people about their medications but follows that up with proven motivators of fun mini games and earning memorable rewards like movie tickets – to reinforce good habits and keep people sticking to their medication over the long term.

What rewards and prizes are available? How do you source your rewards? Do you work directly with companies?

Users have the opportunity to earn movie tickets, gift cards, charity donations and travel vouchers by sticking to their medication. What we are really doing here is using whatever rewards motivate people to stick to their medication.

Different people like different prizes and we’re learning about which prizes provide the most motivation to keep people on their medication.

Currently, we source rewards at a largely retail price but we know there’s opportunity in the future to partner with reward suppliers to bring down that cost and help us achieve sustainability for our business model.

As a younger audience are generally associated with gaming, is this app also aimed at a younger audience? Are there any restrictions on the age range?

This is an interesting question because just like you, we presumed that this app product would appeal to a younger age group…but we were mistaken. If you talk to people who work in the mobile games industry they will tell you that a middle-aged Mum is more likely to play games on her mobile than her teenage son.

So, everything you thought you knew about who is a mobile gamer is actually wrong. There are plenty of people in the 40 to 65 year old age bracket, who are playing games on their mobiles. In the age bracket above that, there are a smaller group of people but it’s still millions of people and a growing.

We think the combination of games and rewards has quite broad appeal. According to our test data so far, we have users as young as 23 on the platform and people as old as 74….