Applying Minecraft Lessons to Healthcare

Posted on July 7, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Isaac S. Kohane has a great article on STAT which talks about what the healthcare system can learn from Minecraft. As my 3 children addictively play with Minecraft behind me, I was particularly intrigued by what healthcare could learn from Minecraft. Isaac does a great job creating the comparison:

From outside the door to their command and control center, I discreetly observed the team, taking care not to disturb them. They stared intently at the moonlit landscape littered with hidden traps and vertiginous fjords displayed on the large console in front of them, tracking their own progress and that of 10 other far-flung teams as they collectively navigated through the complex virtual environment toward a common goal.

When one team seemed to get lost or momentarily confused, a colleague on another team would grab her smartphone and offer concise video guidance. It was a remarkable demonstration of using technology to coordinate teams in complex tasks without prior training.

Even more remarkable, no team member was older than 11. The software they were using was Minecraft, the virtual reality navigation game that has addicted millions of users worldwide.

He layers on these questions about today’s health system as compared with the Minecraft team described above:

How often, in your experience as patient, family member, doctor, or nurse, do all the members of the care team actually know what the current plan is, and who else is on the team? How easily can all team members monitor activities, figure out if the care is on the right track, and instantly conference to organize a course correction if needed?

Isaac is right that we can learn a lot from Minecraft. He offers some suggestions of why we don’t. I’d like to add a few of my own.

Simplify – I’m still shocked and amazed that Minecraft made an incredibly compelling game out of blocks. It’s amazing what my children can create out of blocks. I’m also amazed at how much fun they have doing it. Unfortunately, we haven’t spent the time needed to make our interfaces simpler. We layer on complexity after complexity instead of looking at ways we can continue to simplify. I realize that healthcare is complex, but much of healthcare isn’t complex. In fact, it’s quite mundane. We can simplify most of our health IT systems.

Fun – Minecraft is fun. It encourages creativity. Millions are addicted to it. Can you say the same about your EHR? Nope. That’s because EHR software wasn’t designed for fun or creativity. They were designed as big billing engines and government compliance engines (see meaningful use). Doctors would never describe billing or government compliance as fun. If EHR software were a care engine that helped them discover new care pathways, patient risks, new medical knowledge, etc, then they’d have fun. Yes, it would be a weird twisted medical kind of “fun”, but most of the doctors I know are totally into that stuff. Just look at the success of Figure 1 to see what I mean. Should EHR vendors start a new marketing campaign “Making EHR Fun Again”? (Shoutout to Bryce Harper for those baseball fans)

Collaborative – Minecraft would be a fun game on its own, but like healthcare wearables it would wear off quickly if it was just a standalone game. The thing that makes Minecraft so addicting is that it’s collaborative by nature. The collaboration provides a new level of addiction and accountability to everyone playing. Medicine could and should and in some places is collaborative by nature too, but our health IT and EHR systems are not. Imagine if collaboratively caring for a patient was as easy as it was to connect friends on Minecraft. Yes, I’ve even seen Minecraft on an iPad connect with Minecraft on Android. Collaboration between different systems is possible even if many in healthcare want to describe all the reasons it’s impossible.

Obviously there are big differences in Minecraft and Healthcare. While you can die in both, in Minecraft you just re-spawn and start playing again. The same isn’t true in healthcare. However, that’s exactly why we should consider why some things we take for granted in games like Minecraft are no where to be found in healthcare.