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Video games have become a vital part of modern society. Games have been developed using medical themes as ways to educate not only patients, but also the physicians as well.

A great resource that has been introduced in our society in the last decade has been the Fitbit.  This is a wonderful product that encourages users to have a more active lifestyle.  Not only does it track steps and calories burned for the day, but it also has a feature where you can join a group and compete against them in order to receive bonuses or some type of prize at the end of the week.  I learned about this from my sister who implemented these in a medical practice she is managing.  All staff members were given these wristbands and then at the end of the week, whoever has exercised the most will receive an all-expense paid dinner at a fancy local restaurant.  She attests that this was a wonderful way to get everyone in the office moving and involve everyone from the doctors to the secretaries out front.  These watches create a playful yet competitive environment and push users to walk the extra block in order to be leading the group for the day.  Why not let the competition bring out the best in us if the end result is a more active user that can ward off diseases like diabetes and peripheral artery disease later on in life?  

The last practical application worth mentioning in the medical realm encompasses the use of these video games as a means of training physicians.  

During my surgical rotation, I was told by surgical fellows that physicians who grew up playing with video game controllers tend to fare much better during laparoscopic surgeries or when using the da Vinci Surgical Robot.

 The reason for this is simply that laparoscopies are very similar to control sticks used to move characters around the screen.  Instead of having Mario jump for coins though, these controls are being used to isolate tissue for biopsy or to cauterize vasculature prior to extraction of organs like in gallbladder removals.  Surgical residents in some centers around the world are being taught how to do these operations by doing trial operations on this video game platform.  The monitors depict a virtual patient and the resident is obligated to do everything from sterilizing the site to closing the patient at the end after the surgery has been performed.  This is an ideal environment to learn how to do these surgeries because it can be quite difficult to find the operating time when competing against other surgeons or residents for the same practice opportunities if a doctor is training in a rural hospital.  This module also provides an opportunity for the physician to make a mistake without risking a patient’s life.

Overall, the gamification of the medical realm is a necessary change in my opinion.  If nearly 70% of Americans have some type of platform to play video games, it would be a missed opportunity to not try to utilize these available resources to educate our patients.  Patients respond much better to interactive software compared to lectures from the physician on what they must do to improve their health which will educate them more on potential side effects from medications as well as learning about their overall condition.  Having patients who are better informed will vastly improve their therapies because this is a huge factor in determining if patients stick with their treatment plans.  

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a patient walk into my office telling me he decided to stop his medications early because he was feeling better or if he felt that the medications were not helping him.  If a patient is given supplemental learning material to improve his knowledge, he will understand the importance of these medications and complete the prescription knowing that it is dangerous if he does not.  There is also opportunities to train physicians without the risk of injuring patients in reality.  All physicians should consider implementing video games into their practice.  

  • 1.) Zelinski, Elizabeth, M. Ph.D. Reyes, Ricardo. BA. "Cognitive Benefits of Computer Games for Older Adults." Gerontechnology 2009 Autumn. Volume 8(4) Pages 220-235.
  • 2.) "Packy and Malton." Health Games Research 2016. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  • 3.) Primack, Brian A., M.D., Ph.D., et all. "Role of Video Games in Improving Health-Related Outcomes- A Systematic Review." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012. June 2012. Volume 42(6) Pages 630-638.
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