sam glassenberg level ex cannes lions
Sam Glassenberg, founder and CEO of Level Ex, a medical video game company, takes the stage at Cannes Lions 2019 as a featured “unexpected healthcare disruptor.”

An unexpected tool is helping doctors diagnose and treat patients, and empowering pharma to drive engagement.

At the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, “unexpected healthcare disruptors” took the stage with a powerful message: To make breakthrough changes in the medical industry, and to empower patients and healthcare professionals, we need to look in unexpected places. One of those places? The video game industry. Sam Glassenberg, founder and CEO of Level Ex, a company that creates medical video games for doctors, was one of the three “disruptors” on stage, there to discuss the impact medical video games are having across healthcare. 


It’s clear that physicians are finding significant value in this entertaining tool that allows them to diagnose patients and practice virtual procedures repeatedly in an interactive environment. To date, the company has attracted more than 400,000 healthcare professionals in the U.S. alone, with 3 million in-game medical cases played last year. Capturing physician attention for upwards of 10 minutes per app session, Level Ex games also benefit pharma.

Using brain power

Glassenberg is a seasoned video game executive who also happens to hail from a long line of doctors. He has long been aware of how video games drive human behavior and realized that he could harness the alluring power of video games to change physician behavior. His company crafts interactive experiences with sophisticated game design, complete with realistic scenarios, reward systems and lifelike virtual patients. “This patient is squishy,” Glassenberg said. “This patient moves. I can grab anything anywhere at all, and the patient’s anatomy behaves realistically.” 

He continued to explain that when a consumer plays a video game, they experience reward and frustration. They will try something several times and fail in the game, but the moment they succeed, the game rewards them, triggering a dopamine release in their brain that reinforces the neural pathways they just used on the successful attempt. This positions video games as a powerful tool for physician learning — an audience that is constantly striving to be the best at their craft. This is in stark contrast to gamification marketing strategies, which involve companies “gamifying” content by adding quizzes or badges in order to make content fun and interactive to the consumer. But quizzes, Glassenberg said, “weren’t fun in the second grade, and they’re not fun now.”

Game-changing performance

As it turns out, doctors find Level Ex medical games to be fun and clinically valuable. It is one of the tools they rely on to earn continuing medical education (CME), a free benefit of playing the games. Level Ex has created games in specialties ranging from cardiology to gastroenterology. Healthcare professionals can navigate complex diagnosis scenarios, administer treatments and learn how patients respond, implant stents, cauterize wounds, remove cancerous lesions and much more. This learning happens conveniently on their mobile devices, which offer ultra-realistic graphics that are standard in the video game industry, but lacking in the medical world. With this advanced technology, Glassenberg hopes that his company’s medical video games can supplement expensive or outdated tools, reduce the number of mistakes made on real patients and continue to drive behavior change in a way that improves patient care. 

A pharma sponsored level in one of Level Ex’s specialty games leveraging augmented reality to educate about MOA. 

A win for pharma, too

Level Ex also partners with life science companies who run programs within their games. “We’ve become so good at disseminating best practices through video games,” Glassenberg said, “that we’re now working with top pharma and medical device companies.” Players can learn to properly dose and administer drugs, engage with patient profiles that align with various treatment approaches and even fire at molecules in MOA games Angry Birds style. Rather than being forced to engage with ads, healthcare professionals opt in to play an experience, and attempt levels repeatedly and voluntarily, allowing the company to collect rich data about physician behaviors and share it with their partners. 

“These aren’t banner ads that doctors are trying to swipe away,” Glassenberg explained. “Doctors are choosing to engage with this content because it’s interesting, and they’re doing it on their own time. Why? Because what we’re using is real game design that drives neurochemistry. These neurological principles make playing — and learning — enjoyable and drive action.”