Should Victoria pay for injured man’s Wii?


opinion A fascinating news story popped up over the weekend about a debate in the Victorian Parliament over whether the state’s WorkCover Authority should pay an injured man for the cost of a Nintendo Wii console and Wii Fit game to aid with rehabilitation.

On one side of the fence is assistant Opposition Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, who maintained the claim by a Coburg resident — a Mr Jones — was legitimate and should be taken seriously.

On the other side is WorkCover Minister Tim Holding, who ridiculed Rich-Phillips for saying the State Government should spend money on video games when the claim had already been assessed by WorkCover and knocked back.

Holding said in Parliament that both insurer GIO and WorkSafe Victoria had investigated the issue and found that Jones’ apparent medical advice that he needed a Wii for rehabilitation didn’t mean it was a reasonable cost.

Now this story probably first got a run in the press because of what many people would consider to be its ridiculous nature. After all, many people in the general public would ask, since when have video games been considered rehabilitation tools?

You can imagine the general ridicule that many Australians would feel for a situation in which a government authority would pay for a device which is most commonly associated with titles like Zelda and Mario. The typical response, I imagine, would be something like: “Get off your butt and do some work, you dole bludger”.

And yet, there is much to be said for the other side of the argument.

Firstly, I own the Wii Fit game and attachment, and I can say wholeheartedly that there is nothing “game”-like about the damn thing.

“Playing” it is more akin to an excellent demonstration of the sorts of modern torture you are likely to find in any major gym in Australia. You run up and down on the spot. You do lunges, push-ups, sit-ups and probably even tricep dips.

Just when you think you can do no more exercise using the damn thing, it challenges you to beat the on-screen instructor in a trial of endurance.

The Wii Fit is more than capable of teaching its users in the fitness techniques of aerobics, Yoga, balance training and so on. One of the best (or worst) of its included features is that it will nag you when you haven’t used it for a while — just as a good gym instructor will. And it even weighs you every time you step onto its attachment — so that it can track your body mass index over time.

All of these attributes have led to the Wii Fit being used in medical and aged care facilities around the globe for exactly the purpose that Jones is claiming he wants one — for rehabilitation.

Take the example of several hospitals in Lancashire in the UK, which were so enthused with the potential of the Wii Fit that they issued a press release espousing its use in rehabiliting young patients.

“Physiotherapy sessions for children and young people often use play or diversion techniques to get them to overcome any discomfort or stiffness they may feel,” said Lesley Walters, Head of Physiotherapy, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, back in October 2008.

“Wii Fit is a great way of using computer games to stimulate interest while performing exercises which can be uncomfortable. We encourage people to have fun while undergoing physiotherapy and the use of a computer games console which encourages fitness is a fantastic innovation for physiotherapy.”

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a year earlier in September 2007 that nursing homes around the country were incorporating video games — particularly the Wii — into their official activity programs as a way of keeping aged care residents mentally and physically fit.

“They’re having so much fun they don’t even realise the exercise and stimulation they get from it,” said Toni Doherty, the Amity nursing home in Greenacre’s aged-care services manager.

Now your writer doesn’t know the particulars of the government regulations or insurance codes that might be stopping Victoria from handing over the cold hard cash to Jones so he can spend his days tying himself into knots with the Wii Fit.

But I do know one thing — ridiculing the Wii Fit as a video game in 2010 just makes politicians look silly. My aching muscles and — by now, no doubt — millions of people around the world using the device to make their daily health just that little bit better would argue it is much more.

Image credit: Chesi, Creative Commons


  1. Studies have shown that video games have a valid place in rehabilitation.

    One of the underlying trends however is the general cost of health care. Medication, diagnostic equipment, staff costs are all signifigant costs and are trending upwards. Add an aging population, the demand for healthcare will also put upward preasure on costs.

    So what you are seeing in Vic is another slavo in the healthcare wars. Of cause the oposition will point out that the Wii Fit system is a good rehab tool. Of cause the Government will point out it is an unnessisary cost. The oposition do not care about the cost if it can score a hit on the government, especially with the focus of federal health care policy at the moment.

    So is a Wii a good thing in a rehab program. Yes. With Wii Fit and its exercise program is a great tool. The decision is can we afford to pay for it, and that is the scope of parelement to decide, not the medical professionals

    • Very true Darryl — as always it comes down to the money and the politics, rather than the technology.

      In this case I think what needs to happen is that Nintendo needs to produce a separate version of the Wii which does not have the option to play ‘normal’ games like Mario and Zelda and just has a stack of therapeutic applications.

      This way, the device can also be seen to be a medical aid as well as a video gaming console. Aged care homes would probably want the normal ‘unlocked’ version, while some other more structured medical institutions would want the locked version so it looks much more innocuous to those spending the money.

      Of course, this will never happen — Nintendo sells more than enough Wiis as it is and don’t need to change their systems to suit society. They would probably argue (although I doubt they would comment) that society should change to reflect the changing societal values inspired by their consoles (if this makes sense).

  2. Nintendo could do a medical version of the Wii, and it would do very well if there was money to pay for it.

    The fact it is all plastic makes it easy to clean (an important issue for hospitals for disease control).

    There was a report that someone hacked the Wii Fit pad and turned it into an effective diagnostic tool that saved close to $1m for the equivelent medical industry item. Cant remember the providence of the article however.

    Using consumer grade controls in an hospital may actually sav money…but there is a large industry with a vested intrest in the status quo.

    • The key thing for me is that people were saying it makes rehabilitation more “fun”. The more fun things are, the more engaged people will be with them, because they stop being a chore and become more of a joy.

  3. If you make a new version, with less functionality, then you could charge the medical profession a bajizzillon dollars for it and make a mint!!!!!… That is the problem with insurance and the medtech field today…they are not trying to find cheaper alternatives (like the wii as rehab tool)…Funny thing is that if this WAS a medical device, and cost more, the Victoria gov’t might have paid w/o question…

    • Hehe there is no doubt you are right Chris — that is the irony here. The Wii is so much more than just a ‘video’ game console, and yet it costs less than many rehabilitation medical devices, no doubt ;)

  4. Here are a bunch of scholary works on the WII as a rehabilitation device:

    Found using the search term: wii rehabilitation research

    I recently read that the WII detectors in the balance board outperformed similar detectors in big buck medical apparatuses and that doctors should seriously look into the device.

    I also speak from experience seeing a family member suffering from side effects of knee surgery, regaining a better gait as a result of using the WII after therapeutic resources had been depleted.

    I hope that the politicians who look at the WII as a “game something” will wake up and realize it’s potential and instead work to implement usage and encourage acedemic research on how to better utilize the WII as a tool that can improve public health thus cutting the overall cost for healthcare.

    • Very useful resources Einar!

      It’s no surprise that the Wii detectors outperformed the expensive medical ones … I mean Nintendo probably has more research money available to it than the big medical syndicates, and innovation in these things often comes from the consumer side of technology simply because of demand and interest etc.

      I really think for the Wii to be recognised in this field, Nintendo would have to sell a locked down version that would avoid having the stigma of video games attached. *sigh* Or we wait until we get new politicians who understand games ;)

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