How Gamification Improves Healthcare and Education Products

By: Tanya Kobzar

healthcare / mobile development / game development


Do you know how, on some retail websites, the shopping cart icon for checkout often indicates that it has an item inside — even though it’s the first time you’ve ever been on that marketplace? That’s done to create a sense of ownership, familiarity, attachment, curiosity — for you to go, “Ah! I wonder what that is.” It’s done to increase conversions. A user is more likely to be engaged from that place of curiosity, especially if the checkout section is designed to cater to it. 


That’s a design decision that is part of behavioral design. 


Gamification is often a result of developers and product teams applying the same behavioral design to app development. It’s quite a big deal in e-learning right now (see Duolingo, Khan Academy, or our example). With the pandemic swallowing up our usual ways of having fun, employees trying to boost workers’ engagement and teach them new skills, and all educational institutions having to work online — it’s no wonder the industry turned to it. The other industry that has seen quite a (painful) push this year — healthcare — is also adopting gamification into its solutions. 

The reason for this is a behavior change that gamification allows. If implemented with care and understanding of the target audience, it can be an asset in various health interventions or care-boosting activities


For a business owner who develops such an app — in e-learning or digital health — that would mean stable user retention rates, continuous word-of-mouth promotion from users, and tangible outcomes — in learning or well-being — for users. 

What Is Gamification in App Development and Its Main Purpose? 

Gamification is a set of practices that add game mechanics to non-game contexts. According to a Kelley School of Business report, gamification taps into positive and negative reinforcement by rewarding preferred user behavior. Thus, it leads to more satisfying outcomes both for users (they reach their goals faster) and for businesses who develop gamified apps (the engagement levels are higher, and thus, the revenue) compared to a non-gamified environment. Two main types of reinforcements exist: extrinsic (e.g prizes, badges, other rewards) and intrinsic (e.g fun, enjoyment, other emotions). 


That is what you would call a classical breakdown of a concept. 


We also like the theoretical framework developed by Yu-kai Chou, an experience designer who studied games — and behavioral explanations on why people enjoy them so much. He developed an Octalysis framework that described the aspects of our mind gamified apps can trigger. Among them, there are scarcity, unpredictability, meaning, accomplishment, empowerment, peer pressure, ownership, and avoidance. It’s possible to apply this framework to almost everything you and other users enjoy and (or) frequently use on the Internet. 


For instance, the scarcity (or impatience) element of it makes us come back to Duoliguo the same day we’ve burned through our “lives” by making mistakes — and our sense of avoidance of loss makes us scared that we lose the progress in there. (Apologies for overusing that app as an example, but it’s very common and illustrative). These two things, no jokes, make people subscribe to the Premium versions.    


Now, how else can gamification be used for solutions in the education and healthcare industries?

Educational Purposes Healthcare Purposes
  • Point-scoring for completed tasks 
  • Rewarding users for completing the daily activities.
  • Peer competition to drive users’ progress in learning via tournaments
  • Exciting storytelling to help kids learn more about their body 
  • Teamwork to create a sense of community.
  • Earning points or gift cards for the periods of med adherence without interruptions 
  • Score tables to boost engagement in class
  • Competitiveness to motivate users to go to the gym or walk more


Let’s take a look at the basic components of gamification for mobile apps:


Awarding. Provide users with prizes for using the app. Award them for accomplishing goals, spending in-app currency, and inviting friends to join the app. Awards may vary from in-app currency to digital goods or even cash rewards. Avoid useless awards — they might lead to loss of interest. Build the award system on what’s valuable to your target audience.


Competition. We love to feel the thrill of competition and we love to come first. This is human nature. Striving to get the highest score and be in the lead is natural. Some users can’t stand when someone is above them on the leaderboard. They do everything to surpass a competitor. Plus, if you’re going to introduce intense competition into your e-learning solution, it’s best to invite an instructional designer onboard — its mechanics have to be balanced to motivate users who enjoy it and not discourage users who do not. Note, that competition is better to not be involved in digital health solutions that are aimed at health interventions for people with chronic pain, mental illnesses, and so on — turning getting better into a race will hurt health outcomes. 


Progress Display. Gamification allows members to see how far they’ve come — and spot the improvements. This inspires users to keep working towards achieving their goals. 


Social Interaction. Allow users to talk to friends, similar-minded people who study the same thing, or people who deal with the same type of illness they do; send them encouragement and cheer them up.  

Gamification must create a sense of control for users. With e-learning, it’s control over the study material and its processing. Within digital health solutions, control comes from increasing awareness about one’s health and ways to care for oneself. Tracking of biomarkers and IoT-based self-monitoring solutions in wearables and other devices help users establish control via aligning what’s happening with their body to their care routines (medication, therapy, — or gym sessions) and understanding various impacts of the latter on the former. 

How Mobile App Gamification Works in Healthcare 

By 2026, the eHealth market is expected to surpass $206 billion. According to IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science’s 2021 trends report, more than 90 thousand health apps were released in 2020. 

The great role of gamification in digital health apps is given to the prevention of some diseases. Gamified apps can help people avoid cardiovascular diseases by helping them maintain a healthier diet, walk and move more, hydrate, etc. Gamification can also enhance the health outcomes provided by apps for self-management, medical education, and medication intake control. Gamification aims to improve patient health and disease awareness, reduce costs, and improve provider collaboration. Check out the list of some of the most popular healthcare apps that utilize gamification tools.

Name of App     Type of App     Gamification Tools
Fitbit Fitness tracker Badges awarding, competing with friends, interesting challenges.
MySugr Healthcare app for people with diabetes Progress tracking, rewards
Mango Health Medication adherence app  Real-life rewards like store discounts and internal currency.


 Gamified healthcare apps can:

  • Notify users when blood sugar level fluctuates.
  • Encourage users to engage in activities that will make them feel better 
  • Track glucose, insulin measurements.
  • Keep track of nutrition data via self-reporting tools 
  • Help users track their eating habits and level of activity.
  • Evoke competition between users and stimulate them to exercise regularly (only for wellness apps, and with great caution).

Healthcare gamification is beneficial to physicians, too. It lets them safely access patients’ in-game information, helping them to assess whether or not patients are sticking to recommendations. If not, this data can help doctors take necessary actions. (Besides, healthcare gamification can also help in educating physicians about their fields and their patients. The study confirms that physicians utilizing games as their primary learning tool show better outcomes compared to their colleagues who only stick to traditional methods of learning.)

Applied in apps, gamification also reduces the cost of healthcare as well as helps in compliance and treatment adherence-related cases by streamlining treatment processes, training doctors, and encouraging patient participation in their well-being. 

Gamification in healthcare represents a patient-centric, compelling way to transform people’s habits and behaviors, drive compliance, popularize healthy habits, and improve overall health indicators through motivating people to engage in long-term care-related activities. 

How Mobile App Gamification Works in Education 

Statista expects the e-learning market to surpass 37 billion U.S. dollars by 2026, and gamification is a huge part of that growth. E-learning apps are efficient, and, with the experienced instructional designer engaged in the app development process, anything — any knowledge domain — can be adapted for online learning. Michigan State University conducted a study that focused on checking the efficiency of the language learning app Babbel. Turned out, nearly 60% of participants improved their pronunciation. Khan Academy, an app for studying mathematics and natural sciences has also proved to be an efficient learning app, according to the study — observations by SRI Education confirm that students who use Khan show higher than predicted test performance. 


Here are some of the most popular educational apps and the gamification tools they use. 

App Name Type of App Gamification Tools
Duolingo Language learning Internal currency, social media interactions, badge awards, progress dashboard.
Codecademy Go Software development and coding Badges awarding, progress dashboard, XP points.
Khan Academy Educational app for learning every subject, from history to science. The skill tree, badges, progress dashboard, and XP points.
Quizlet Language learning, information memorizing. Progress dashboard, flashcards.


In gamified apps, users also can:


  • Receive immediate feedback and be instantly aware of the gaps in their understanding of the subject.
  • Level up and get more complicated tasks with each level.
  • Track their progress via indicators like points, badges, leaderboards, also called performance-based learning (PBLs) mechanics that help maintain users’ devotion to an app.
  • Reach out to friends via social media or in-app communication tools, compete with them, congratulate them on their achievements and notify them about one’s own.
  • Buy in-app items with an internal currency.


Gamification also efficiently evokes students’ interest in disciplines they otherwise mark as boring and gives them the motivation to learn. 

Benefits of App Gamification for Businesses 

For both industries, gamification would boost the business that develops the app: it increases traffic and engagement and helps retain and increase long-term revenue. There’s also increased lifetime value of a customer — in particular, in e-learning — as they’ll stay and keep bringing up new people on board. For digital health startups, gamification has to be tightly aligned with an evidence base for an intervention you’re planning — with enough users reaching their goals (getting rid of anxiety, reducing their pain levels), you’ll have more leverage to offer up your app as a digital therapeutic for hospitals and clinics to prescribe.


Businesses can also benefit from gamification in healthcare-related apps (more on the wellness side of things) and corporate learning by bringing them to their employees: in terms of employees’ engagement, well-being, and retention. B2B2C solutions with gamification in both industries can help individual doctors and tutors to enhance their respective practices. Gamification can also become an asset for clinical research organizations as well: it helps retain participants and, therefore, reduces dropout rates that significantly drive already huge costs of clinical trials. 

Let’s conclude. Gamification:


Improves engagement. Because gamification lets users earn awards for using an app, compete, feel curiosity, and joy from accomplishments it boosts user engagement and allows you to monetize your app as well. 


Boosts traffic. Gamification is a large step towards user satisfaction. Satisfied users are not only motivated to stay with an app. They are likely to tell their friends about them as well. Thus, by implementing gamification you retain the old customers and attract new ones. Gamification tools and personalization will let you reach more people from your target audience — and they will become your best promoters. 


Visibility in social media and online, in general. Give users a dose of motivation, a sense of achievement, and the ability to share it on social media — and they’ll talk. With users talking about their progress achieved with your solution, it gets visibility — you’ve seen people posting their Duolinguo 2021 round-up reports all over Twitter, haven’t you? (You also can award those sharing their experiences with your app — and there will be more people willing to do that.) Also, gamification improves users’ satisfaction with your app and you’ll get more positive reviews. 


Gamification is a practice that works in different ways in healthcare and education but brings significant value to both.


  1. By: Shriram V Kulkarni

    Please let me know about any games -apps of by care givers for patient of Dementia.
    We have a huge population of Dementia patients.
    Dr SV Kulkarni


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