Gaming pilot at Children's National engages youth in their own care management

Steven J. Hardy, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children's National Health System in the District of Columbia, wants to engage families and patients in conversations about how they're managing illness--and use mobile gaming as the tool to do so.

Speaking with FierceMobileHealthcare in an exclusive interview, Hardy (pictured) talked about a pilot the hospital is conducting for children with sickle cell disease. The kids play a game on a mobile platform (in this case, an iPad) that helps them with an often-overlooked symptom of sickle cell disease--memory loss.

"The mobile aspect of the program is really important for a lot of reasons," Hardy said. "It reduces burden on families. If we can give them something at home instead of taking them one more time to the hospital, that's great. Another reason is we know a lot of times, skills we teach kids in office, clinic or hospital don't necessarily transfer to real word."

Fifteen families were enrolled in the first part of the pilot, which began last July. Children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 participated in the program using a computerized cognitive training program called Cogmed on an iPad. Doing this at home allows patients to practice the intervention tasks at their convenience and in naturalistic settings where the learned skills are most likely to be applied, Hardy said.

There are three different versions of the program, and based on age group, the graphics and themes change, according to Hardy. Participants focus on a robot doing different exercises, working on eight different exercises each day. As they get better at the game, it gets harder.

The computerized nature of the program allows task difficulty to be adjusted instantaneously with a high level of precision, based on performance.

"My hopes in doing this research is to shine a light on sickle cell diseases as a whole, and the neuro-cognitive effects that get overshadowed by other symptom," Hardy said. "My hope is that we're able to find something families enjoy doing that can produce meaningful benefits."

The program also makes performance data available in real time, thereby allowing practitioners to remotely review treatment compliance and progress on a day-to-day basis, according to Hardy.

"The question I get from families a lot is--'how long do we have to do this? Is it going to help them forever?'" Hardy said. "The effects do last for at least a year, to some degree, for the pilot we're doing now."

When the patients come in for a followup, interaction is improved, and dialogue becomes more collaborative. In general, Hardy said he wants to work on how to make these programs stick.

"We really need to spend time thinking about how to really engage kids in these programs, and make it something they want to go back to and use more and more," Hardy said.

Related Articles:
Mobile gaming may be the next panacea for reducing stress, anxiety
iPads enable UCLA docs to monitor chronically ill patients
MIT app trials smartphone monitoring of hospital patients
Reminder calls boost patient monitoring via smartphones