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Faculty Innovator Spotlight: Lynn Fiellin, Playbl


Faculty Innovator Spotlight: Lynn Fiellin, Playbl


Dr. Lynn Fiellin is a Professor of Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, the Yale Child Study Center, and the Yale School of Public Health. She is the Founder of Playbl, and Founding Director of the play2PREVENT Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games, an NIH and foundation-funded center. 

Q. Tell us about yourself and your work at Yale. 

I am a Professor of Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, the Yale Child Study Center, and at the Yale School of Public Health. As a practicing physician, I still work on the wards and the last 20 years I have been building a research career. In 2009 I launched the play2PREVENT (p2P) Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games where we develop and evaluate videogames as interventions targeting critical health outcomes in teens. Through our new venture Playbl, which is a Blavatnik Award recipient, we distribute our 5 games, focusing now on educators and schools and then rapidly moving to healthcare settings. 

Q. What is Playbl? 

Playbl is a new spin-out company from the play2PREVENT (p2P) Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games that markets and distributes digital health videogames aimed at the critical period of youth, from ages 10-20. We are currently deep into the rigorous evaluation of our fifth game. 

Developed in Yale's play2PREVENT Lab with adolescents and tested rigorously, Playbl’s games leverage the power of play in the form of evidence-based, engaging videogame interventions to positively impact adolescent health and well-being. Playbl markets and distributes 5 prevention and wellness videogames targeting issues such as mental health, smoking/vaping, opioid misuse, and HIV prevention and testing, and counseling. 

The games are highly accessible and can be played on every platform, giving them great potential for scale, reach, and impact on a national and global level. The lab has to date given over 410,000 logins for our games, an exponential increase for the demand for these games, with the pandemic amplifying their need.  

Q: What inspired you to launch Playbl? 

I have three grown children, and in many ways raising 3 teenagers was the inspiration to develop these types of digital health tools that Playbl is offering. I started the play2PREVENT Lab when my youngest was 10 and my oldest was 20 . They all loved games. Seeing everything they confronted through that critical time of adolescence, and that video games were so engaging and where they wanted to be, was the inspiration to develop these tools. 

While I have spent the past 13 years of my professional life working in the area of building and evaluating videogames as interventions for adolescent health and well-being, inspired both by my children and patients I have cared for in my clinical practice, a very recent study helped to only emphasize the value of this type of technology. This week a research team from the University of Vermont described  findings from their work suggesting that videogaming may be associated with enhanced cognitive abilities around working memory and inhibition control. This research is very exciting and serves to only validate and reinforce the Lab and now Playbl is doing. 

Q: Who is Playbl’s target customer? 

Our customers are educators and school administrators, health organizations, clinicians, and third-party payers, and ultimately direct to consumer.  We were thrilled to sign our first customer, an educator with 200 students. Since then, we have signed three additional customers so we are on our way! 

Q: How has the Blavatnik Fund helped to accelerate your new venture? 

Our customer feedback has been clear that the teachers who put these games to use in their classrooms really need to have game engagement data in order to secure funding from their administrators. As a Blavatnik award recipient, the funding has helped us to augment and complement our games, leveraging and sharing the in-game data (data collected through the game software itself describing in detail the player’s engagement in the game) into dashboards that allows us to be able to market and distribute them. 

The Blavatnik Fund enabled us to work with a talented and collaborative team at Deloitte to create a data dashboard for educators to easily see and understand a user’s game data. This step in our development is important because each game produces an enormous amount of game data that describes everything a player does in the game. We feed that data into the dashboard to make it digestible for the educator. We have built the dashboard and now our next step is to pilot the dashboard and plan to create a system that directly feeds the in-game data into the dashboard, which is our next step in our Blavatnik funded research.  

Q: What is a Yale or New Haven innovation partner or resource that has been particularly helpful to your journey as an entrepreneur? 

Over the past 13 years our lab has worked closely with the greater New Haven community and Connecticut. The city and the state have been incredible partners, offering their feedback in the game applications, helping us determine the voice of the customer—what teens, teachers and parents really want. Our research is conducted in a very user centric, and you have to have their perspective front and center, so their partnership has made for such a rewarding experience.  

Q: Do you have any advice for innovators? 

Be user centric, talk with your customers and include them in every step of the process as they are the ones who drive the success. As part of the Blavatnik Fund we completed a comprehensive customer discovery survey with 150 educators and hearing the feedback of the customer who is critical to getting that innovation out there has been invaluable.   

Q: Supporting women is also at the core of what you do. Can you share with us what how that manifests itself in your work?   

My lab is 15 people strong, and they are all women. I am a huge advocate for women and womens’ careers in medicine, research, and science as well as advocating for and protecting women in the workplace. Our team includes five new post grad associates. I really enjoy mentoring women in the early stages of their careers, it is very gratifying. And this month I was honored as a New Haven Biz Women in Business Awards honoree. 

Our lab recently received a grant award with Stanford focused specifically on developing a virtual training curriculum around stopping sexual harassment in biomedical institutions. We plan to build gaming elements into this training to enhance engagement. This project uniquely combines my focus on using technology for education and health as well as supporting women in the safety and health of their professional workplace.