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"MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity" - Game-based Learning to Teach Safe Medication Handling

Publication Date: Oct 18, 2019

Dr. Olufunmilola Abraham

Prescription drug misuse is one of the fastest growing drug problems in the United States today. Educating teens about the impact of prescription drug misuse is a high priority for educators and health providers. In response, Olufunmilola Abraham, Assistant Professor in UW-Madison’s School of Pharmacy and Dr. Randall Brown at UW-Madison’s Department of Family Medicine and Gear Learning at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, have teamed up to create “MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity,” an innovative video game that educates adolescents about the dangers of prescription medicine misuse, and safe medication handling practices.

In her previous role as a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Dr. Abraham had partnered with community pharmacies, and recruited teens and their families to talk about how they wanted to learn about acute/chronic medication use. Teens in the project expressed interest in education through game-based learning. In the interview that follows, Dr. Abraham gives some background on the game and how it was developed.

Why were games chosen as the medium for safe medication handling education?

“Game-based learning (GBL) is not new to health education,” says Dr. Abraham. “There are many examples of utilizing “serious games” to teach individuals about combating obesity, improving diabetes management, improving HIV treatment etc., in the literature that demonstrate the value of serious games in healthcare. However, the innovation that our team brought to this is saying if it could be used to teach about obesity or a diet or physical activity, it can lend itself to medication use education, and medication safety education.”

Why were anthropomorphic characters chosen as the avatars of the game?

“When I’m designing games, I’m designing them to cut across literacy, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and I feel that using anthropomorphic characters really help take out those biases, and people can get to choose what type of animals/personalities they resonate with."

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What is the target demographic of MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity?

The target demographic of the game, teens aged 15 – 18, was chosen because “that is the age when teens begin to take more responsibility around medication use, and is an important time to teach them how to use medications safely and responsibly before they head to college. However, while the prototype had been designed to cater to high school students (aged 15 – 18), it can also be easy to translate to other age populations, including younger children, and adults!”

In informal testing at science expeditions on the UW-Madison campus and in community settings, Dr. Abraham’s group found that having parents and children walk through the game together helped facilitate medication use conversations.

Where is the setting in which MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity is intended to be played?

As a pharmacist and researcher by training, Dr. Abraham advocates that safe medication handling should be a life skill that is embedded in the type of skills taught at school.

“A school is the target setting to roll out the game because teens are already there, and have health classes, which provides an opportunity to teach medication safety and handling as a life skill and integrate it into their education,” says Dr. Abraham.

Beyond the school setting, Dr. Abraham’s hope is that MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity, and other games that she and her collaborators develop in the future can be incorporated into pharmacies or clinics in addition to schools so that “teachers are empowered to have interactive approaches to educating young people about health topics including safe and responsible use of medications, and parents are empowered also to have conversations about where should we store our medications or what does misuse look like, and what should you be doing, and using tools like this to equip healthcare professionals to realize this is an opportunity to interact with teens and figure out what they know about safe use, safe storage, and safe disposal, and engage in that conversation.”

With a multi-level approach, teens “start to realize that safe, appropriate, and responsible self-management of medications is something they have to learn, and when they’re hearing it from their parents, hearing it from their teachers, hearing it from their pharmacists, or their physicians or their nurses shows that this is something that they should pay attention to.”

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Next steps for MedSMART: Adventures in PharmaCity

Over a year was spent developing the prototype, and while testing has been done in informal community settings, the next steps that Dr. Abraham and her team have in mind is to conduct formal research that tests cognition, learning, data analytics infrastructure and to execute any redesign changes before rolling out the game more widely as funding allows. 


Read more about Assistant Professor Olufunmilola Abraham’s recent projects, including creating a video game for opioid medication safety, cancer prevention through education, and helping cystic fibrosis patients self-manage their care.


  • Fighting the Opioid Epidemic with Information – and Video Games

  • Cancer Prevention Through Education

  • Empowering Young Adults to Self-Manage Cystic Fibrosis

  • School of Pharmacy Welcomes Two New Faculty Members

  • Read more about Dr. Olufunmilola Abraham, PhD, MS, BPharm