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Gamification: Making Health Information Understandable

SHP student’s research selected for American Medical Informatics Association conference
A research paper by SHP junior Aarav Chandrasekar about how to convey the key concepts of informed consent to children through gamification was selected by the prestigious American Medical Informatics Association conference last fall; he was one of just 12 high school students in the country who achieved the honor.
 
“The project is essentially the gamification of informed consent,” said Chandrasekar, which has traditionally been presented as a legal document that people sign before clinical trials. “Say it’s a trial for cancer research—it could outline expectations of what that participant is supposed to do, for example, if they’re supposed to record their weight every week.”
 
The documents are often long and full of legal and medical jargon. “Children are not able to read these documents, and even if they are, they’re unable to understand it," he said. "So, what I tried to do was create a game that would replace informed consent and assent documents.” Informed consent documents are for individuals aged 18 years and up, while the document for those under 18 is called informed “assent.”
 
“With gamification, the same information in the legal document is presented in different, more exciting and more understandable ways, through dialogue with different characters in the game, through charts, and visuals,” said Chandrasekar.
 
His research involved A/B tests with 18 children globally, focused on children ages four to 12 years old. The gamified approach scored better than the paper document for participants’ understanding of the content (an 18 percent improvement), and over 88 percent of participants said they preferred the informed assent game over the paper document. And the game resulted in a higher average number of questions answered correctly versus the paper version. “[This data] shows promise for testing in real-world clinical trials,” said Chandrasekar.
 
How did Chandrasekar learn the necessary coding skills to design the games? He’s been practicing with Scratch, MIT’s coding platform for children, since the third grade. At SHP, he took AP computer science with teacher Kevin Morris. “I learned a ton of nuances and intricacies of coding, and different applications. It’s probably one of my favorite classes here—Mr. Morris is a great teacher,” said Chandrasekar.
 
Another SHP teacher helped him on his path to learning about gamification—he was introduced to Palo Alto-based company FriendsLearn through a biology project he conducted in teacher Chris LaBonte’s class. The bio and health tech company aims to prevent disease through “digital vaccines,” that raise awareness of dietary and lifestyle choices affecting health via its 3D game called Fooya. Chandrasekar became an intern there the summer after his freshman year, and his informed consent game this past summer was also in partnership with the company, along with his mentor, Dr. Rema Padman, a professor of management science and healthcare informatics at Carnegie Mellon.
 
Through Dr. Padman, Chandrasekar had another opportunity to share his gamification research: in August, he presented along with Dr. Padman and seven other guest speakers at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Young Innovators Healthcare Fellowship in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for an audience that included 24 high school-aged “Young Innovators” recipients.
 
“It was a great opportunity to be able to present to professionals who are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields, as well as students my age who face the same obstacles that I faced through my design thinking process,” said Chandrasekar.  
 
Next on the horizon for this driven student is continuing to expand his expertise in game development, explore new coding platforms, and master 3D modeling with animated characters for his games. He plans to pursue computer science in college.
 
View a short section of the assent game Chandrasekar designed showcasing game elements and information modules.
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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12