BioPharma, Health Tech, Physicians

Level Ex pitches gaming as a tool for reaching doctors

Interactive, cloud-based video games are designed to tackle pharma’s current challenge: engaging doctors virtually during a pandemic. But the tools are likely to outlive the circumstances in which they were born.

Confident that virtual video meetings have their limits, a Chicago-based company rolled out new video game-based solutions this fall designed to help drug companies engage doctors more effectively.

The games were in development prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Tom Donnelly, chief revenue officer for the company, Level Ex,  which was purchased in May by Munich-based medical technology firm Brainlab. But work accelerated due to the pandemic’s restrictions on in-person meetings.  

Virtual meetings have their drawbacks, Donnelly said. “You can’t even tell if doctors are paying attention. A lot of them have their cameras off.”

Founded in 2015 by video-game veteran Sam Glassenberg, Level Ex started out making training games that doctors could download and play on iPads, mobile devices laptops or other devices. The company’s new gaming platforms – called HuddleUp and Remote Sales Detailing – are cloud-based, allowing multiple people to play the same game at the same time, regardless of their location.

HuddleUp is a standalone event platform that can host a pharma rep or key opinion leader and up to eight healthcare professionals. Remote Sales Detailing Games are interactive experiences that sales reps and health professionals can play on existing video-conferencing tools like Zoom.

They’re like the popular game Fortnite but with an experiential, educational component. A game, for example, could mean presenting a patient case to a group of doctors, Donnelly said. Doctors could make their recommendations and compare notes.

“It’s all about thinking and strategy and solving the puzzle,” Donnelly said.

The actual games are customized to meet a pharma company’s goals, Donnelly said. Pharma customers can structure the experience so that doctors, for example, would learn why they might want to prescribe one medication over another, Donnelly said.

The development process can take three to six month and cost from $150,000 to $500,000, depending on the complexity and the number of doctors and sales reps on the platform. After the initial cost, companies would pay an annual licensing fee based on usage.

Level Ex customers include large pharma and device companies like Amgen, Pfizer and Medtronic, Donnelly said. The company also is seeing demand from smaller biopharma firms that need new tools to approach clinicians.

Before the pandemic, nearly two-thirds, or 64%, of the meetings between sales reps and health professionals were in person, according to an August survey by consulting firm Accenture. During the pandemic, 65% of meetings have been virtual.

“The challenge for pharma has been how can you meaningfully engage physicians when you don’t have access to them,” said Dr. Harry Greenspun, chief medical officer at Guidehouse, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm with a life sciences practice.

Interactive video games are a relatively new tool that is likely to resonate with younger doctors. Success hinges, in part, on the draw of the key opinion leaders that are part of the package, Greenspun said in a phone interview.

Still, a game could provide more meaningful interaction than yet another video call, he said. “That may be a stickier experience.”

Donnelly said doctors average about 13 minutes per session with Level Ex, compared to the three or four minutes a sales rep might get in face time at a doctor’s office. The video-game experiences, which incorporate lessons from neuroscience, also improve recall by 28%, he said.

“It’s using the proven neuroscience of game design. That’s what influences behavior change,” Donnelly said.

Even after Covid-19 wanes, virtual tools are likely to stick around. The Accenture survey found that 87% of health professionals want a mix of virtual and in-person meetings even after the pandemic ends.

“We don’t see it going back to where it was pre-Covid,” Donnelly said.

Picture: Anikei, Getty Images

Correction: An earlier version of the story mistakenly represented the name of the German company that bought Level Ex. It was bought by Brainlab, not Brain Lab.