Videogaming as Viable Surgical Training
A study undertaken by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has unearthed some rather startling data. It seems that standard PC and console gaming, may actually be a better tool for minimally invasive surgery, than the task-dedicated simulators currently used.
Surgical systems like the Da Vinci (pictured below), rely on the surgeon's reflexes, steady hands and keen eyes through a computer interface, whilst the actual surgery is carried out by a multiple-pronged robotic probe, light source and camera setup that slips inside the body via a keyhole surgical incision. It has far superior recovery times to traditional surgery, but requires a radically different set of skills.
To offer insight on how best to train future surgeons, the study placed high school and college students head to head with resident physicians in robotic surgery simulations.
Both high school sophomores who played video games on average two hours per day and college students who played four hours of video games daily matched, and in some cases exceeded, the skills of the residents on parameters that included how much tension the subjects put on their instruments, how precise their hand-eye coordination was and how steady their grasping skills were when performing surgical tasks suck as suturing, passing a needle or lifting surgical instruments with the robotic arms.
"The inspiration for this study first developed when I saw my son, an avid video game player, take the reins of a robotic surgery simulator at a medical convention," said Dr. Sami Kilic, lead author of the study and associate professor and director of minimally invasive gynaecology in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at UTMB. "With no formal training, he was immediately at ease with the technology and the type of movements required to operate the robot."
Specifically, the UTMB study measured participants' competency on more than 20 different skill parameters and 32 different teaching steps on the robotic surgery simulator a training tool that resembles a video game booth complete with dual-hand-operated controllers a video monitor that displays real-time surgical movements. As a whole, the nine tenth graders participating in the study performed the best, followed by nine students from Texas A&M University and lastly the 11 UTMB residents; the mean age of each group was 16, 21 and 31 respectively.
For further comparison, the groups were tested in a simulation of a non-robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery. In this scenario, when presented with a complicated surgical technique that does not rely on the visual-spatial coordination present in robotic surgery, the resident physicians scored far higher than the high school gamers.
Kilic notes these observations point to a need for surgical training to adapt to future generations of doctors who will arrive at medical school with an affinity for emerging surgical techniques. "Most physicians in practice today never learned robotic surgery in medical school," said Kilic. "However, as we see students with enhanced visual-spatial experience and hand-eye coordination that are a result of the technology savvy world they are immersed in, we should rethink how best to teach this generation."