Rigorous evidence is lacking whether online games can improve patients’ longer-term health outcomes. We investigated whether an online team-based game delivering diabetes self-management education (DSME) to patients via e-mail or mobile application (app) can generate longer-term improvements in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c).
Patients (n = 456) on oral diabetes medications with HbA1c ≥58 mmol/mol were randomly assigned between a DSME game (with a civics booklet) and a civics game (with a DSME booklet). The 6-month games sent two questions twice weekly via e-mail or mobile app. Participants accrued points based on performance, with scores posted on leaderboards. Winning teams and individuals received modest financial rewards. Our primary outcome measure was HbA1c change over 12 months.
DSME game patients had significantly greater HbA1c reductions over 12 months than civics game patients (–8 mmol/mol [95% CI –10 to –7] and –5 mmol/mol [95% CI –7 to –3], respectively; P = 0.048). HbA1c reductions were greater among patients with baseline HbA1c >75 mmol/mol: –16 mmol/mol [95% CI –21 to –12] and –9 mmol/mol [95% CI –14 to –5] for DSME and civics game patients, respectively; P = 0.031.
Patients with diabetes who were randomized to an online game delivering DSME demonstrated sustained and meaningful HbA1c improvements. Among patients with poorly controlled diabetes, the DSME game reduced HbA1c by a magnitude comparable to starting a new diabetes medication. Online games may be a scalable approach to improve outcomes among geographically dispersed patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases.