“You’re never going to amount to anything if you keep playing those darn video games all day.”
If those well-intentioned mothers only knew that video games are now being used to train surgeons, they might have sung a different tune to their game-obsessed kids. Video games have often been viewed in a negative light; for example, many people think playing them is a mindless waste of time, that they contribute to bad grades in school, that they foster negative social conduct by promoting withdrawal from social interaction, or even that the games encourage aggressive behavior.
But here’s some good news for gamers. To gain experience performing laparoscopies, robotic surgeries, and image-guided clinical procedures, surgeons are employing interfaces similar to those in video games that operate by utilizing a joystick and buttons. Practicing in this manner can help increase hand-eye coordination, which strengthens surgical skills.
JC Rosser Jr et al conducted a study that showed the following: surgeons who played select video games in the past, for more than 3 hours per week, had 37% fewer errors and also had a 27% faster completion rate performing laparoscopic surgery and suturing compared to surgeons who never played video games. Overall time and error scores were 33% reduced for participants who played video games in the past, and 42% better if they had played in excess of 3 hours per week. Surgeons who currently play video games showed similar positive results compared to colleagues without any video game experience.
Moreover, Dr. Rosser found that surgeons who played select video games just prior to conducting laparoscopic suturing performed the procedure faster and with fewer errors compared to surgeons who did not prep on video games prior to suturing. Regression analysis also indicated that video game skills and past video game experience are significant predictors of demonstrated laparoscopic skills. One of the video games used in the study was Super Monkey Ball, where players move a monkey that is inside a ball through an obstacle course. Remotely guiding surgical instruments inside a patient requires intensely fine finger movements, which Super Monkey Ball helps hone.
Findings from similar research conducted at the University of Rome showed that using the Nintendo Wii could help train young laparoscopic surgeons as an adjunct to standard, hands-on surgical education with simulators in operating rooms.
In addition, an associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Dr. Sami Kilic, conducted a similar study to see if all those hours spent with a game controller in hand could help a physician acquire the surgical skillset needed to perform today’s advanced robotic surgeries. The study compared how 3 different groups performed during a set of robotic surgery simulations, using a simulator with a 2-handed controller similar to many video games and a monitor that displayed real-time surgical movements. The 3 different groups pitted against each other included high school sophomores who played 2 hours of video games a day, college-age students who played 4 hours of video games a day, and resident physicians who don’t play video games at all. Each group was tested on delicate surgical tasks such as suturing, passing a needle, and lifting surgical instruments using 2 robotic arms. The simulator tested the subject’s economy of motion, how precise their hand-eye coordination was, and how steady their grasping skills were, even checking to see if the instruments collided or were dropped. Results showed that both the high school and college students matched, and in some cases, exceeded the skills of the resident physicians. Interestingly, the high school group performed the best. The high school group only played 2 hours of video games a day, compared to the college students, who played 4 hours of video games a day. So while the findings suggest that video games improve motor skills and hand-eye coordination necessary for robotic surgery, the study also demonstrated that more hours spent gaming doesn’t necessarily translate to greater robotic surgery skills.
The bottom line is that video games are being utilized increasingly as practical teaching tools to help train surgeons because more and more studies are suggesting the positive correlation between the two.
For further information on the link between surgical skills and playing video games, you can consult the peer-reviewed Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications, which was launched in 2011.
You may also want to check out the Touch Surgery iPhone app, which is a mobile surgical simulator that contains step-by-step procedures and check-points for 12 different operations, from cleft palate repair to emergency leg fasciotomies, in a video game-style environment. Coincidently, theTouch Surgery app is being used by patients as a way to familiarize themselves with surgeries or procedures they’re about to undergo; such activity can help increase patient knowledge of their specific surgery in order to help reduce presurgery anxiety.
Medical procedures continue to evolve with technology. So mom, if you want your child to grow up to be a surgeon, you may want to have an Xbox® or PlayStation® in your home and encourage him or her to start playing video games at an early age!
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- Benedetti W. Want to be a surgeon? Start playing video games. NBC News Web site. November 20, 2012. http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/want-be-surgeon-start-playing-video-games-1C7179650.
- Finley K. How videogames could help train the next generation of robotic surgeons. Wired.com. December 11, 2012. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/12/robotic-surgery-and-gaming.
- Hampton T. Can video games help train surgeons? Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Web site. March 2013. http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/Health-Notes/SurgicalInnovations/Advances/VideoGames.aspx.
- Hampton T. Could video game players make better surgeons? CBS Boston Web site. March 12, 2013. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/03/12/could-video-game-players-make-better-surgeons.
- Layton J. Are surgeons using video games for training? How Stuff Works Web site. http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/surgeon-video-game.htm.
- Rosser JC Jr, Lynch PJ, Cuddihy L, Gentile DA, Klonsky J, Merrell R. The impact of video games on training surgeons in the 21st century. Arch Surg. 2007;142(2):181-186. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17309970.
- Sokol Z. The gameification of medicine: how video games are sharpening surgical skills. Motherboard Web site. http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/how-video-games-are-sharpening-surgical-skills.