Health Education Serious Games Targeting Health Care Providers, Patients, and Public Health Users: Scoping Review

JMIR Serious Games. 2020 Mar 5;8(1):e13459. doi: 10.2196/13459.


Background: Serious educational games have shown effectiveness in improving various health outcomes. Previous reviews of health education games have focused on specific diseases, certain medical subjects, fixed target groups, or limited outcomes of interest. Given the recent surge in health game studies, a scoping review of health education games is needed to provide an updated overview of various aspects of such serious games.

Objective: This study aimed to conduct a scoping review of the design and evaluation of serious educational games for health targeting health care providers, patients, and public (health) users.

Methods: We identified 2313 studies using a unique combination of keywords in the PubMed and ScienceDirect databases. A total of 161 studies were included in this review after removing duplicates (n=55) and excluding studies not meeting our inclusion criteria (1917 based on title and abstract and 180 after reviewing the full text). The results were stratified based on games targeting health care providers, patients, and public users.

Results: Most health education games were developed and evaluated in America (82/161, 50.9%) and Europe (64/161, 39.8%), with a considerable number of studies published after 2012. We discovered 58.4% (94/161) of studies aiming to improve knowledge learning and 41.6% (67/161) to enhance skill development. The studies targeted various categories of end users: health care providers (42/161, 26.1%), patients (38/161, 23.6%), public users (75/161, 46.6%), and a mix of users (6/161, 3.7%). Among games targeting patients, only 13% (6/44) targeted a specific disease, whereas a growing majority targeted lifestyle behaviors, social interactions, cognition, and generic health issues (eg, safety and nutrition). Among 101 studies reporting gameplay specifications, the most common gameplay duration was 30 to 45 min. Of the 61 studies reporting game repetition, only 14% (9/61) of the games allowed the users to play the game with unlimited repetitions. From 32 studies that measured follow-up duration after the game intervention, only 1 study reported a 2-year postintervention follow-up. More than 57.7% (93/161) of the games did not have a multidisciplinary team to design, develop, or assess the game.

Conclusions: Serious games are increasingly used for health education targeting a variety of end users. This study offers an updated scoping review of the studies assessing the value of serious games in improving health education. The results showed a promising trend in diversifying the application of health education games that go beyond a specific medical condition. However, our findings indicate the need for health education game development and adoption in developing countries and the need to focus on multidisciplinary teamwork in designing effective health education games. Furthermore, future health games should expand the duration and repetition of games and increase the length of the follow-up assessments to provide evidence on long-term effectiveness.

Keywords: game-based learning; health education; health games; serious games.

Publication types

  • Review