Anaesthesiologist and IT enthusiast, Doctor Melanie Suppan presents the "Escape Covid-19" computer game she helped brainstorm and develop at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) in Geneva, on May 10, 2021. Photograph:( AFP )
Players of the game are guided through a series of scenarios that health workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities encounter on a daily basis
A computer game called "Escape COVID-19" is helping health workers not only get a distraction but also garner knowledge to battle about the novel coronavirus in real life.
Players of the game are guided through a series of scenarios that health workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities encounter on a daily basis.
Each challenge, from before leaving the house to their commute and especially on the job, is geared towards helping frontline staff change their real-world behaviour to better protect against spreading the virus.
Researchers at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) have developed the "serious game", which is available online in French, German, Italian and English, to help healthcare workers internalise the best practices for avoiding outbreaks on the job.
Professor Stephan Harbarth heads the infection prevention unit at the hospital and his team helped provide the protocol and procedural expertise underlying "Escape COVID-19".
"Classical hospital hygiene and inter-hospital infection prevention are not always the most sexy of topics," he acknowledged.
"We see that a playful game, along with other communication methods, is more effective in helping people change their behaviour."
A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research earlier this month indicated that the game was far more effective than regular information manuals in inspiring behavioural change among staff.
"Those who played the game were three times more likely to say they wanted to change their behaviour compared to those who received the regular material."
Inciting behaviour change among health professionals is vital.
Since the start of the pandemic, hospitals and care facilities have tragically become incubators of COVID-19 outbreaks.
In the beginning, Harbarth said most of the focus was on protecting doctors and nurses from getting infected while caring for COVID-19 patients.
But after a while it became clear that asymptomatic health workers were spreading the virus too, and often to non-Covid patients.
"We realised we needed to be very careful that the personnel didn't become vectors, or mosquitos if you will, infecting patients," Harbarth said.
There was a need to dramatically change attitudes among health professionals, who are accustomed to working long hours and not letting a cough or sniffle keep them away.
Now, they were asked to stay away at the slightest symptom, and to get tested even without symptoms.
"It is really a complete change of our normal paradigm," Harbarth said. "The game has helped us do that."
In fact, he said, the game deserved some of the credit for the dramatic drop in hospital-sparked Covid infections in recent months.
Looking forward, Harbarth said he hoped games would be more widely used to reinforce important medical messages, including on vaccination.
"This is a huge challenge," he said, pointing out that not all hospital employees agree to get a Covid jab.
"A playful game... might be a good tool for distributing accurate information."
It involved nearly 300 emergency room workers in Geneva who were either provided with written material about the proper procedures to follow or asked to play the computer game.
"The study measured a real benefit," said Suppan.
(With inputs from agencies)