Cigna’s Healthcare Gaming Mission: “Cancer-Fighting” Game App for Kids

August 30, 2013
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Re-Mission 2 Cancer fighting game

Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

Re-Mission 2 Cancer fighting game

Originally published on MedCityNews.com.

Ten years ago, it would have seemed strange that a health insurance company would want to encourage children to play video games. With today’s healthcare gaming culture, though, it makes total sense.

Cigna thinks every young cancer patient should have access to Re-Mission 2: Nanobot’s Revenge, a video game designed to empower kids to fight their disease and stick to their prescribed treatments.

The game puts players inside a virtual human body and equips them with “weapons” like chemotherapy, antibiotics and immune cells to, literally, fight cancer. A non-profit technology organization called HopeLab developed it with input from oncologists, epidemiologists, cell biologists, behavioral psychologists, video game producers and young people with cancer.

Since 2007, Cigna has distributed the game for free to doctors and facilities that treat young people with cancer.

“The more we looked at it, the more we found it an impressive way to break through with teenagers to understand their cancer and what it takes to fight and beat it,” said Joe Mondy, director of public relations for Cigna. “We were won over by the fact that they’d actually done research on it.”

HopeLab worked with medical centers across the country to conduct a randomized, multi-center trial of the game’s effects in 375 young patients with cancer (PDF).  After three months, the patients who were given the game demonstrated improvements in quality of life, knowledge about cancer and belief in their ability to beat the disease. They also maintained 41 percent higher blood levels of chemotherapy and showed a 16 percent higher usage rate of antibiotics.

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Researchers have linked adherence to treatments with better outcomes in certain cancers. Research has been mixed, though, on whether positive attitudes are associated with better cancer outcomes.

“(In 2007), we distributed enough to put it in the hands of every kid who had cancer in the U.S.,” Mondy said. Now, Cigna wants to expand the game’s reach by offering it as a free app for Android and iOS, rather than the CD-based format Cigna would send out to docs. “Our goal is to get this in the hands of every kid with cancer in the world.”

HopeLab recently re-designed the game into a series of six separate games that’s “less Americanized,” according to Mondy but just as effective in its mission.

The app can be downloaded in the App Store or on Google Play.