Pokémon Go and Diabetes

Like diabetes, Pokémon has been around for a while now but has revamped with a new innovative strategy -- Pokémon Go. The innovation is all part of augmented reality (AR), the practice of overlaying digital images on the real world via smartphones screen. With diabetes, that reality is the extension of real world daily tasks that people with diabetes (PWD) need to do to get their glucose under control. It is like living in a game of immediate decision making related to food, physical activity, medication, pain, discomfort, stress, unexplained increased in glycaemia, and all that is required to meet one's’ daily self-management goals.

A few weeks ago, Joe Manget (Board Member, Healthy Interactions) who is all about innovation and making things better for all, challenged me to generate learning from Pokémon Go that can improve the way we approach diabetes care. Initially, I could not see the connection of what this AR game has to do with the seriousness of managing diabetes. But, since millions of users are using Pokémon Go, there must be a logic to this phenomenon that can be applied to diabetes.  PWD are individuals who without change, creativity or incentive for improvement will not have an opportunity to better their existing reality.  Same goes for healthcare professionals, as in this case, we produce innovation and experience for our patients that engage and educate. Ultimately, improving the practice of how diabetes education and care is delivered and experienced.

Most of diabetes management is done by a PWD/player but influenced by others/team. All PWD are playing to win, not to lose. Unfortunately, looking at their glucose readings or weigh scale, they are playing to lose. Typically, those who are playing to win are activated, excited and motivated to become better as they know they want to win.  Versus, those who focus on failure and assumption of losing are not engaged, give up the efforts or doing a minimum to just survive. We want PWD to play to win! Here is how:

  • Indicate a clear goal and strategy: what can you do today that is reproducible every day for at least 30 days to create a habit
  • Create a plan or some rules: set daily expectations
  • Monitor daily progress: daily accomplishment produces weekly outcomes
  • Challenge and pace yourself: increase knowledge, skill to intensify the progress
  • Interact with other PWD: comparing your progress and getting support from others motivates and keeps you accountable
  • Reflect, reward and celebrate on your participation not just outcomes: just the fact that you are doing all that needs to be done for diabetes and not giving up means that you are still in the game

Behavior change is all about habit forming and liking it. Feeling well produces the need for more of that good feeling. Diabetes self-management like Pokémon Go needs to start small and scale up, keeping all acceptable, mindful, engaged and proud of all efforts and outcomes.

Michael Jordan who is one of the best players of all time said, ”I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Same applies to us healthcare professionals and PWD, we need to keep moving with innovation, creativity and not be afraid to try new things in order to achieve better outcomes in diabetes care.


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