Gamification Boosts Digital Health: Level Up!

5 min read

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As the market for gamified mobile health apps is rapidly growing, this article aims to help you understand this innovative concept and grasp its most valuable aspects.

Gamification makes it fun to take care of your health

Health apps offer a convenient way to track and manage your health data, communicate with healthcare professionals, and receive support for a wide range of conditions. However, despite their benefits, many health apps struggle to maintain user engagement over time.

This is where gamification comes in. By incorporating entertaining and motivating game-like elements, developers can increase user engagement, improve adherence to treatment plans, and ultimately enhance health outcomes.

What exactly is gamification?

Gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to non-game activities in order to make them more fun and engaging.

When it comes to health, gamification can be used to encourage people to adopt healthy behaviors or stick to their treatment regimens. There are many different ways that gamification can be used in digital health interventions. Let's review some of them.

  • Points: Points track progress and reward users for completing specific actions or achieving certain goals. For example, users may earn points for tracking their exercise, logging meals, or taking medication as prescribed.

  • Badges: Badges are visual representations of achievements or milestones. They can be used to reward users for completing specific tasks or for reaching certain levels of progress.

  • Leaderboards: Leaderboards are a way of showing users how they stack up against others. Leaderboards can be a motivator for users who enjoy competition.

  • Challenges: Challenges are a way of setting goals and encouraging users to work towards them. They can be designed to be completed individually or as part of a team and can be time-limited or ongoing.

These elements are to be considered complementary. Indeed, the points system can allow follow-up on short-term tasks, bringing quick satisfaction to the user and encouraging them to continue their efforts to work towards their long-term objectives as a team or individual challenge. This achievement will be rewarded with a badge.

One common misconception is that games are just for kids. It is true that children and adolescents may be particularly interested in game-like apps. Nevertheless, many adults who like to be entertained and challenged will also likely benefit from this novel approach to health app development.

What does the scientific literature say about this?

As this is a new approach to health app development, a recent review of the literature conducted by Tran et al. (1) suggests that more research is needed on this topic, although early results are promising. 
Nonetheless, it should be noted that a study published in 2021 by Santoso et al. (2) shows that integrating gamification into health apps can lead to increased engagement, curiosity, and satisfaction in patients with mental illness.

Gamification in health apps has several benefits for both patients and healthcare professionals. Here are some of the benefits:

Benefits for patients

  1. Increased engagement: Gamification can make health apps more engaging and enjoyable for patients, which can encourage them to use the app more frequently and for longer periods of time.

  2. Improved motivation: By using game-like elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards, health apps can help patients stay motivated to make healthy behavior changes.

  3. Enhanced education: Gamification can be used to educate patients about their health conditions and how to manage them. By presenting information in a game-like format, patients may be more likely to retain the information and apply it in their daily lives.

  4. Better adherence: Gamification can improve medication adherence by reminding patients to take their medications, tracking their progress, and rewarding them for adherence.

  5. Positive reinforcement: Gamification can provide positive reinforcement for patients who are making progress toward their health goals. This can be a powerful motivator for patients who may be struggling to make changes.

Overall, gamification can be a valuable tool for improving patient outcomes and engaging patients in their own care.

Benefits for healthcare professionals

  1. Improved patient outcomes: By using gamification in health apps, healthcare professionals can help patients make behavior changes that lead to improved health outcomes.

  2. Increased patient engagement: Gamification can help healthcare professionals engage patients more effectively, which can improve patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment plans.

  3. Better data collection: By tracking patient progress through gamification, healthcare professionals can collect data that can be used to monitor patient outcomes and adjust treatment plans as needed.

  4. Time-saving: Gamification can help healthcare professionals save time by automating certain aspects of patient care, such as medication reminders and progress tracking.

  5. Cost-effective: Gamification may be a cost-effective way to promote behavior change and improve patient outcomes, which can lead to reduced healthcare costs over time.

By using game-like elements in health apps, healthcare professionals can help patients make behavior changes that lead to improved health outcomes, while also saving time and reducing costs.

App examples

This section includes some apps that have successfully integrated gamification elements. To discover more apps and access our reviews, you can visit our AppGuide database to find trusted content on 14,136 health apps.

mySugr is a comprehensive diabetes management and monitoring application. It includes gamification elements by personifying the user's diabetes as a monster. The creature reacts according to the monitoring data (blood sugar, medication intake, meal, or physical activity monitoring) entered by the user. The user must also complete challenges to encourage them to improve their health.

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In-app purchases

SuperBetter is an app that helps users achieve their health goals, from fighting anxiety to improving their nutrition. It features an RPG (Role Playing Game) structure, which incorporates missions, rewards, and opponents, to encourage users to make positive changes to their real-life behaviour.

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In-app purchases

The Zombies, Run! app is a creative fitness app. The idea is to encourage you to run by immersing you in a zombified post-apocalyptic world, where the action starts at your first stride. Your missions are to collect ammunition, medicine, food, etc. You are guided by fictional characters who give you mission objectives and you progress through the game by running.

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In-app purchases

Happify is an app that helps you manage stress and anxiety. It offers a series of games and activities designed to improve your mood. The app also provides feedback on your progress. It is possible to customize the program and set goals.

application icon
Twill, Inc.
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Upping the game of apps

No matter how it's implemented, gamification has the potential to make digital health interventions more effective by making them more engaging and fun.

However, it is essential to employ an evidence-based co-design approach and agile methodology, including patient involvement from the initial stages of app development, to maximize the potential of gamification in health interventions.

Overall, gamification has the potential to revolutionize the way healthcare professionals engage with patients and improve patient outcomes in the digital age. And that's good news for everyone involved.


  1. Tran S, Smith L, El-Den S, Carter S. "The Use of Gamification and Incentives in Mobile Health Apps to Improve Medication Adherence: Scoping Review." JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2022 Feb 21;10(2):e30671. doi: 10.2196/30671. PMID: 35188475; PMCID: PMC8902658.

  2. I. S. Santoso, A. Ferdinansyah, D. I. Sensuse, R. R. Suryono, Kautsarina, and A. N. Hidayanto, "Effectiveness of Gamification in mHealth Apps Designed for Mental Illness," 2021 2nd International Conference on ICT for Rural Development (IC-ICTRuDev), Jogjakarta, Indonesia, 2021, pp. 1-6,
    doi: 10.1109/IC-ICTRuDev50538.2021.9655706

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