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What Pokémon Go Means for Health Care

By Kim Bellard, July 21, 2016

In recent days there have been a flood of stories trying to explain the Pokémon Go craze.  
Many -- e.g., The New York Times and Fast Company -- believe that Pokémon Go is finally going to make augmented reality mainstream, as well as showing AR's advantages over virtual reality, since the latter typically requires at least a headset plus a high powered PC.  It makes AR quick, easy, and free, teaching players how AR can seamlessly fit into the real world.

The game has players wandering around their neighborhoods, their eyes torn between their phones and the real world, visiting places they never stopped at before and meeting people they might never have talked to before.  People are already talking up the game's health benefits.  The New York Timesreports that it "has kids on the move."  More importantly, when people are playing the game they are not sitting passively behind a screen in their house.

Pokémon Go is not, by itself, going to lead to dramatic improvements in the nation's health.  Nor was it intended to.  It is, however, yet another example about we can use games, or at least gamification, can help us with our health.

However promising gamification in health care may be, it is the AR that may well hold the most promise for health care.  Google was not wrong to pursueGoogle Glass, just premature.  Pokémon Go may be signaling that we're now finally ready for AR, and that it will be consumers as well as professionals who can benefit from it.

The potential uses in health care are virtually endless, but here are a few examples:

  • Ever been lost in a hospital, meandering haphazardly despite various signs and color-coded arrows?  How much better would an AR map be?  
  •  Ever feel like your doctor spends too much time staring at your chart or a screen?  Instead of looking there for information about you, how much better would it be if he/she was looking at you, with AR notations for key information about you?  
  •  Ever not understand what your doctor is telling you about your diagnosis or treatment?  It is well documented how few patients leave their doctors office/ER/hospital understanding what they were told.  How much better it would be if your phone could listen to the conversation, and provide AR "translations" into layman's terms of what is being said?  
  • Ever been told you needed a prescription, a test, or other treatment, and wondered how much it might cost?  You might have even asked your doctor, who most likely doesn't know either.  How much more powerful transparency efforts would be if those prices showed up as AR in the place of service at the time of the discussion about them, again with both the patient and the doctor seeing them?
  • Ever make "bad" food choices, despite calorie and nutritional information more omnipresent on labels and menus?  How much better would an interactive AR display of the information be?

Health care has no shortage of information.  Its problem is more making that information accessible to the right people, at the right time.  This is the real potential of AR, and figuring out how to do so in as impactful yet unobtrusive way will be the challenge for developers.

Pokémon Go is not the model for the future of health care, but it offers a model for it we should be paying attention to.

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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