Nintendo helping to create diabetes management game

15 March 2006
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Diabetes for DummiesAt the moment 194 million people around the world are affected by diabetes. A doctor at the University of Washington is working with game developers to create an interface that reaches young people with diabetes where they are: on the phone or playing video games.

Dr. Harold Goldberg, 56, an admitted gadget geek and parent of two young adults, said the Game Cube interface is a logical next step from his work with adult diabetes patients through their desktop computers.

Goldberg and three grad students are working with six industry partners, including Nintendo and game designer Realtime Associates of El Segundo, Calif., to create a new medical interface.

“So many good people at these companies have stepped forward to volunteer,” Goldberg said. Lance Barr, product design director at Nintendo, in Redmond, Wash., across Lake Washington from the university, agreed that health care is not the game company’s bread and butter, but the company has for many years made some little-known forays into the field.

For example, Nintendo created a hand-free controller a few years ago that allows people with disabilities to play video games. They also put together a “fun center” that moves a Game Cube and a DVD player around hospitals on a rolling cart for patient entertainment.

Barr said he got involved in Goldberg’s project a few years ago when the doctor called to ask if Nintendo might be interested. “We all live in the same community here. We like to give back to the community,” Barr said, adding that he has a personal interest in health care because his wife is a mobile pharmacist and they have a son who is fighting leukemia.

“We spend a lot of time in and out of the hospital. I can appreciate somebody being at home, going to the doctor a lot and just needing that extra communication with the health care worker,” Barr said. “In the end, what we’re trying to do here is let technology improve people’s lives.”

Barr added his the development team also enjoys working on products “outside the norm,” and he expects the engineers and designers helping Goldberg will learn something to help the company with its more commercial ventures.

Similar to the approach Goldberg took with the desktop computer interface, diabetes patients will test their own blood sugar and blood pressure using digital devices that can be connected to a computer, Game Cube or another Internet-ready device like a smart phone. The information will be automatically sent to the doctor’s office.

The computer interface, which is in the very early stages of development, will quiz the patients on other medical issues, such as diet and exercise, could send reminders to teens to check their blood sugar and medical professionals will send feedback to the patients through the same system.

It will be similar to the way some doctors keep track of their patients through the telephone, but hopefully more fun and more efficient, Goldberg said.

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Ferry Groenendijk By Ferry Groenendijk: He is the founder and editor of Video Games Blogger. He loved gaming from the moment he got a Nintendo with Super Mario Bros. on his 8th birthday. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and at Google+.


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