In two separate studies, "gaming ability was a better predictor of advanced surgical skills than years of experience or number of surgical procedures performed," Dr. Douglas Gentile told Reuters Health in an interview prior to his presentation.
Dr. Gentile at Iowa State University and colleagues first studied 33 laparoscopic surgeons participating in the Rosser Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program. The participants were asked about their video game use.
The researchers found that surgeons who played video games in the past for at least 3 hours/week were 27% faster at surgical procedures and made 37% fewer errors compared to surgeons who did not play video games.
"Normally speed and errors don't go hand in hand like that," Dr. Gentile said.
They confirmed these findings in a second trial involving 303 laparoscopic surgeons.
The Top Gun Program was embedded in video games that required fine motor skills and reaction time, non-dominant hand dexterity, two-handed choreography, targeting, and 3-dimensional depth perception from 2-dimensional information.
The 123 surgeons who played the games for about 20 minutes prior to the Cobra Rope Drill performed significantly faster at the first attempt and overall across 10 trials.
"These studies show the untapped potentials that video games offer" to medical training, Dr. Gentile said. "They're inherently motivating -- just look at how hard it is to get kids to stop playing - plus we now know how to design games to have maximum benefit."
"It's clear to me that the closer we get to reality, the greater learning and transfer to real world situations should take place," he added. "That's why I think lap surgery is the perfect starting place, because so much is done by looking at a screen rather than needing a body in front of you."
He foresees the time when medical students will be required to purchase and "play" a video game simulator several hours a week during their surgical rotations.
"Surgical training is based on the model, 'see one, do one, teach one', " he added. "But that only teaches you three times."
By contrast, he said, an effective program could be developed by "opening 200 cadavers and scanning them into a computer, programming in the 50 most common surgical errors and the 50 most common complications. Then students would 'play' until they've gone through all of them."
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