Digital health just experienced a massive turning point: Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO has been a global, viral success. It was predictable that people in the 20s and 30s would be big fans of the app, but the younger generation, too, have gotten hooked on the mission to catch ‘em all.

Digital health has always been about using technology to further progression to a healthier society. So far, these technologies have been overt. They are apps or devices that your download or buy in order to become healthier. You do not accidentally start tracking your steps with a FitBit; it is a choice.

Pokémon GO is a covert digital health app. By accident, or as a by-product at least, millions of people, from teens up to the hippest of pensioners, have been roaming the streets – walking, running, and even sprinting (‘rare Pokémon, charge!’) for hours on end, or at least for as long as their battery will last. Just take a look at the uplift in exercise minutes recorded by Cardiogram:

Cardiogram Pokemon GO

Consider this. Before Pokémon GO, teenagers were sat at home playing Minecraft. 20-somethings were Netflix and chillin’ (which, admittedly is a good form of exercise) and the 30-somethings were using the proper way, since ‘chill’ only happens on birthdays and anniversaries.

That’s a huge exercise deficit. Society is becoming less healthy as each generation passes us by, and for something to come along and change behaviour, so suddenly, en masse, and without people even realising, is a mammoth success. FitBit, Withings nor RunKeeper can attest to this level of step-change. And yet… Pokémon can.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Health isn’t just about fitness. Mental health is a huge area in digital health, and the early signs are pointing to Pokémon GO providing great support to those suffering with depression. We know that exercise helps with depression, but there are also reports that Pokémon GO is helping those with social anxiety, as it encourages them to get out, explore and meet people with similar interests (catching Pokémon).

So, while you may hear people belittle those who play Pokémon GO, or who say the game is a health and safety concern, just remind them how much it is helping people exercise and socialise, and societies addition to television might be something to better focus their efforts on.

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