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Game-based Learning for Medical Training

Picture this: a surgeon, preparing for a complex procedure, is not poring over medical textbooks or reviewing notes. Instead, they’re intently focused on a screen, playing a video game, simulating challenges they may encounter during the operation. It may sound like an unusual pre-op routine, but for Dr. James Rosser Jr. at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, it’s a crucial warm-up exercise

Surprised? You’re not alone. The idea of using video games for medical training might seem unconventional at first, but a growing body of research and real-world applications suggests that game-based learning is a powerful tool for preparing healthcare professionals for the challenges they face every day. Let’s explore how gaming and medical education go hand-in-hand!

via Dribbble

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The Science Behind Gaming and Surgical Skills

Dr. Rosser’s pre-surgery gaming habit isn’t just a quirky personal preference – it’s backed by science. In a 2002 study, researchers found that surgeons who played video games for at least three hours a week made 37% fewer errors during laparoscopic surgery and completed tasks 27% faster than their non-gaming counterparts. The top-performing gaming surgeons? They made a whopping 47% fewer mistakes. So what is it about video games that translates to the operating room?

As it turns out, the hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills required for success in many video games are remarkably similar to the skills needed for laparoscopic surgery, which involves using tiny incisions and robotic controls to perform delicate procedures. By regularly engaging in gaming, surgeons can hone these abilities in a low-stakes environment, developing muscle memory and mental agility that directly benefits their patients.

Beyond the Operating Room

While Dr. Rosser’s example highlights the value of gaming for surgeons, the potential applications of game-based learning in healthcare extend far beyond the operating room. From military medical training to nursing education, educators and institutions are utilizing the power of play to prepare medical professionals for all types of real-world challenges.

Take, for example, the STATCARE (Simulation Technology Applied to Trauma Care) simulator used by the military to train field medics. This video game presents virtual soldiers with battlefield injuries, challenging players to provide appropriate care and manage resources in a high-pressure environment. By immersing trainees in realistic scenarios, STATCARE helps develop the quick thinking, decision-making, and triage skills essential for success in combat medicine.

Similarly, nursing students at Mercy Medical Center engage with a collection of games designed to simulate real-life patient care situations. These games, which incorporate avatars, badges, and challenges, provide a safe space for nurses to practice responding to a variety of clinical scenarios, building confidence and competence before they ever set foot in a real hospital room.

From Board Games to Virtual Reality

While video games are a relatively recent addition to the medical education toolkit, the concept of game-based learning has deeper roots. As Eric Gantwerker notes in his article “Medical Training Can Be Fun and Games,” board games have been used for centuries to teach and reinforce medical knowledge. He cites contemporary examples like Empiric, a creative card game that teaches students about antibiotic therapies, and GridlockED, which simulates the challenges of managing patient flow in an emergency department.

But as technology has advanced, so too have the possibilities for game-based medical education. Today, virtual and augmented reality technologies enable the creation of realistic training simulations that allow learners to practice skills and encounter scenarios that would be impossible or impractical to recreate in real life. From virtual patients to simulated surgical procedures, these cutting-edge tools are transforming the way medical professionals learn and prepare for their careers.

Making Medical Education More Accessible and Effective

Beyond high-tech simulations, even simple gamification techniques can have a profound impact on the effectiveness and accessibility of medical education. The DiagnosUs app, for example, uses gamification to help medical students, nurses, and even practicing physicians sharpen their diagnostic skills. By presenting users with real patient X-rays and ultrasound images and challenging them to compete for high scores, the app makes the process of honing clinical knowledge more engaging and rewarding.

This element of engagement is key to the success of game-based learning in medical education. As Jack M. Germain notes in his article for TechNewsWorld about DiagnosUs: “Medical students are a very motivated bunch. They have a vested interest in using the app, which provides what med schools do not present.” By tapping into learners’ intrinsic motivation and desire for mastery, game-based tools like DiagnosUs can fill gaps in traditional medical education and help students and professionals alike develop the skills they need to succeed.

A Future of Challenges and Opportunities

As game-based learning continues to gain traction in medical education, it’s important to acknowledge its challenges and potential pitfalls. Poorly designed games that prioritize entertainment over education, or that fail to align with learning objectives, can do more harm than good. There’s also the risk of over-reliance on virtual learning at the expense of real-world experience and human interaction.

But when implemented thoughtfully and in conjunction with traditional teaching methods, game-based learning can improve medical education. As Gantwerker argues, “The future of surgical training is likely a hybrid solution involving totally asynchronous (learning on their own), synchronous remote (learning with others through teleconferencing), and synchronous in-person training.” By using games and simulations to enhance and supplement real-world learning experiences, we can create a more engaging, effective, and accessible system of medical education.

From the operating room to the virtual world, video games and game-based learning are transforming the way medical professionals learn and prepare for the challenges of their careers. By tapping into the science of play and the psychology of engagement, these innovative tools are helping learners develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to provide the best possible care to their patients. As we look to the future of medical education, one thing is clear: it’s time to embrace learning through play!

Curious about how game-based learning could transform training in your organization? We specialize in creating bespoke, effective educational games designed to meet your unique needs. Get in touch with us today to discover how we can help you harness the power of play for learning!

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