Not Just For Fun: Video Games Invade the OR (Part 1)

I am not a gamer, but a share a home with a gaming-obsessed teenager. In this series of blogs on the applications of gaming to medicine, guest blogger Devin Griffiths attempts to educate me and my readers about the wisdom of allowing my fourteen-year old son to indulge (at least a bit) in his gaming obsession. Last month, Devin published a book on gaming entitled, Virtual Ascendance: Video Games and the Remaking of Reality (Rowman & Littlefield, October 2013.)

Six minutes to better surgery. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Yet laparoscopic surgeons are finding that they can improve performance by engaging in one simple activity for less time than it takes to boil water. By what magical means can they achieve this, you ask?

ID-10092334Playing video games.

I can hear the protests already. Video games are a scourge, a blight. They’re responsible for the downfall of modern society. They can’t possibly offer anything positive.

Actually, they can—and in 2002, Dr. James C. Rosser, then at Beth Israel Medical Center, proved it. He had 33 surgeons participate in a three-month study that involved, among other activities, playing a series of video games before simulating laparoscopic surgery. About half of the participants had a history of game play, though all of them played during this study. Researchers compared the results between participants, as well as against non-gaming colleagues. What they found was dramatic: Surgeons who were playing currently, but hadn’t in the past, were 32 percent more accurate and 24 percent faster than non-gamers. Those with a history of game play made 37 percent fewer errors and were 27 percent faster than their colleagues who’d only recently begun playing. And the most skilled gamers in the group made 47 percent fewer errors and were 39 percent faster than those at the bottom of the heap. Further, after controlling for extent of training and number of cases completed, the best predictors of surgical success were video game skill and amount of past gaming experience. Said surgeon and study participant Asaf Yalif,

“We were surprised and actually awed by the fact that your video game skill, meaning how well you play, as well as the number of hours you have spent on video games were very highly correlating — meaning if you do this well you will be less error-prone, you will be faster and you will perform better at laparoscopic surgery.”

Now at Florida’s Celebration Health hospital, Dr. Rosser recently conducted a follow-up study with 300 laparoscopic surgeons, half playing a video game just prior to scrubbing in. The results? A six-minute video game warm-up resulted in more effective performance and better patient outcomes.

Another study at the University of Rome, Italy, published this past February in the journal PLOS ONE, provides further evidence of gaming’s impact on laparoscopy. Researchers gathered forty-two post graduate students in general, vascular and endoscopic surgery, and split them into two groups. Both groups received standard training, but one group also trained on the Nintendo Wii. After four weeks, the Wii group showed significant performance improvement in several areas, including economy of instrument movements and efficient cautery. The authors’ conclusions? The Wii could be a valuable tool for laparoscopic training, and an effective, inexpensive, and entertaining means of enhancing standard surgical education.

You can find Dr. Rosser’s JAMA Surgery article here

The New York Times has a piece about Dr. Rosser here

And you can learn more about Dr. Rosser’s recent work here

For information about the study at the University of Rome, go to the PLOS ONE article

… and the write-up in Science Daily here

For more information about video games and their impact on society, check out Devin’s blog

About the Guest Blogger:

Devin C. Griffiths has been writing all his life and gaming almost as long. He grew up during the great video game boom of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, and spent many hours (and more quarters) in their company. He studied science journalism at Hampshire College, and launched his own PR and marketing company, Catamount Communications, in the early 2000s. His first book, Virtual Ascendance: Video Games and the Remaking of Reality (published October 2013, by Rowman & Littlefield) examines the impact of games and the video game industry on society, health, education, economics, and culture—a topic he also explores on his blog, Reality Evolved: videogames and the end of the world (as we know it). You can follow Devin at http://devingriffiths.wordpress.com.

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