How gamification is improving therapy outcomes

April 15, 2024   |   PT

What if physical therapy was as much fun as playing on the Xbox? At-home therapy exercises would be nearly effortless –– you or your child might even look forward to at-home therapy exercises.

From pediatric occupational therapy to skilled nursing physical therapy, innovative startups like Augment Therapy and RESTORESkills are leveraging gamification to improve therapy outcomes.

Both companies operate on a core premise that is simple yet a literal game changer –– combining physical and occupational therapy exercises with a captivating video game experience. This method not only entices users to participate eagerly in their therapy sessions but also allows therapists to monitor and collect data on patient movements through advanced motion capture and computer vision technologies. 

Lindsay Watson, PT, MPT, co-founder and CEO of Augment Therapy, says, “On the surface, it looks like a video game. We take evidence-based exercises and drop a gaming environment around it.”

What is gamification in therapy?

Gamification is the application of game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts. In therapy, this means transforming conventional exercises into engaging, game-like experiences, making therapy sessions more appealing and motivating. 

Therapists, especially in the pediatric space, have always used games to make therapy more engaging. Video game therapy builds on that experience exponentially. 

Lindsay Watson, PT, MPT, co-founder and CEO of Augment Therapy, says the software is designed to look like a video game. “That’s our goal for what patients are supposed to think when they see the software.”

While seniors aren’t as easily fooled, RESTORESkills similarly keeps its users just as engaged. They even incentivize users by sending T-shirts to those who hit the “jackpot” in their popular slot machine game. 

With Augment Therapy, therapists can leverage technology to replicate in-person therapeutic efforts, bridging the gap between therapy sessions and home exercises.

Watson founded Augment Therapy after seeking a way to overcome the limitations of traditional physical therapy, especially in pediatrics. She would see patients once a week and prescribe at-home exercise programs. “Invariably, nobody ever did what I assigned. I knew they could make progress faster and discharge out of therapy if I could find a way to duplicate myself through technology,” she says.

Eran Arden, founder and CEO, has heard many times about seniors repeating therapy activities until they hit the jackpot and even staying after a therapy session to cheer on others to do the same. “Suddenly, you want to participate in therapy for 20 minutes and not for five. Your standing tolerance is now three minutes and not one because you are engaged with a family member, or you can play with other team members in a facility,” he says.

The companies’ innovative approach not only captures users’ interest but also diverts their attention from therapy’s repetitive and sometimes tedious aspects. By embedding evidence-based exercises in a gaming environment, Augment Therapy and RESTORESkills ensure that patients actively participate in their prescribed routines while immersed in an enjoyable activity. 

How gamification therapy technology works

Both Augment Therapy and RESTORE use motion capture and computer vision technology to create a dynamic and interactive experience. This setup allows therapists to collect real-time patient movement data, providing valuable feedback on their progress. This technology fosters a sense of achievement and progress, which are essential components for sustained engagement and motivation in therapy.

Users can also “play” with others for a sense of competition and solidarity. 

Besides making therapy more fun, integrating easy-to-use gamification technology into therapy can enhance patient engagement and outcomes in many ways: 

  • The technology stores patient progress at home and builds on that.
  • Therapists can track patient progress at home and personalize the program. 
  • The technology standardizes therapeutic approaches so clients have similar sessions even with different therapists.

The goal is to augment therapists’ work and not to replace them. “We’re not trying to innovate a provider out of the equation. We’re trying to simplify their render of care by making it easier for them to continually touch base with their patients over their care trajectory,” says Watson.

Bridging the gap: From pediatric to adult therapy

While initially focused on pediatric care, Augment Therapy’s software has also proven effective for adults. “We found adults are equally engaged by what we’re building,” says Watson.

RESTORESkills targets senior care, but they too have found children are enamored by the software. They’ve seen users enjoy the therapy games together with grandchildren on site or even remotely.

This adaptability highlights how gamification can transform therapy experiences across different age groups, making it a versatile tool in the therapist’s arsenal.

The impact of the pandemic on gamification therapy

Both Augment Therapy and RESTORESkills were founded before the pandemic, when telehealth and remote patient monitoring were fairly new. Once the pandemic began and therapists could no longer see patients in person, the two companies were uniquely positioned as a solution. 

The chaos of COVID-19 actually accelerated the acceptance and necessity of integrating technology into therapy, transforming what was once considered a fringe approach into a mainstream methodology.

“The pandemic made these providers recognize that this model of where only the therapists come in person is incredibly inefficient,” says Watson. 

Today, leaders of therapy gamification share a vision that extends beyond simply making therapy more fun. The goal is to revolutionize the therapy experience in order to support therapists in delivering more effective care and to improve patients’ quality of life.

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