UPMC Uses Games to Keep Congestive Heart Failure Patients Out of the Hospital

By: Christine Stanesic

Patients with chronic diseases are often inundated with education about their conditions.  But traditional education often fails to drive patients to make needed behavior changes.


That’s why UPMC partnered with SimCoach Games to apply the principles of gaming to congestive heart failure (CHF) to drive home the basic skills needed for self-management.  Nearly 25 percent of patients hospitalized with CHF are readmitted within 30 days across the United States, leading to financial penalties for hospitals. In FY14, the UPMC heart failure readmission rate was 19 percent. These readmissions often result from lack of patient engagement and behavior change by the patients after discharge.

With SimCoach, UPMC created an interactive game that patients (or family members) access on a tablet while in the hospital or at a doctor’s appointment. Players interact with and coach Simon, a character with CHF who was recently released from the hospital. Players are able to hear Simon tell them how he’s feeling that day, see how his heart and lungs are doing, and watch for fluid retention in his legs and lungs. To successfully complete the game, players must coach Simon for a week to track his weight, make sure he takes his medication and prompt him to call his doctor if he has any problems.

At the end of the game, players are given feedback on their coaching. Did they help Simon to complete the key behaviors?  Was he was readmitted to the hospital?

Videogames are structured in the way that adults learn best by giving the player a goal, making active participation crucial for success, showing the consequences of choices and giving feedback on the overall performance.

By immediately seeing how their choices impact the health outcomes of Simon, the players learn that there are skills they can apply immediately toward a healthy lifestyle and improved outcomes.

Feedback from a 2013 pilot at UPMC was used to make improvements to the game, with a new version launched in late 2014. Improvements included a simplified setup for nurses, ability to choose an inpatient vs. outpatient setting, and compatible versions for Windows and Android devices.

Version 2.0 is being piloted by transition care coordinators in some UPMC facilities, and a systemwide rollout is in development.  UPMC also plans to adapt  the SimCoach® platform to other chronic diseases.