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Nintendo's 'Wii' trains doctors

July 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The latest wave of video game technology is doing much more than keeping teenagers entertained. It is preparing doctors for the operating room.Doctors made a few adjustments to the Nintendo Wii to play games similar to surgical procedures. They turned some Wii accessories into surgical tools. Developers used cyber gloves to record and measure hand movements and found that the coordination to play the games is similar to what is needed in laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, surgery.

Simulators that train doctors for surgery often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, a pilot study at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix found that by playing the specially adapted Wii, residents' skills improved by 50 percent.

"This gives us a much less costly way to train on these fine motor skills that the surgeons employ in surgery," said Mark Smith, MD Gynecological Surgeon at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital Phoenix. "They develop an increased efficiency, less errors, more fluid movement. Basically, they're just better," added Dr. Smith.

Game developers say this is taking training to a whole new level. Meanwhile students say they know this is just a game, but it helps to sharpen their skills for the real thing.

Web extra information:

Laparoscopy, or minimally invasive surgery, is a procedure performed with the aid of a video camera placed in the abdomen. It is often utilized in surgeries like gallbladder removal and those involving reproductive organs. Laparoscopy involves making a small cut in the skin, expanding the abdominal cavity with a harmless gas like carbon dioxide, and inserting a rod-shaped telescope with a camera attached into the abdomen. By doing this, surgeons can examine and operate on diseased organs with minimal trauma to the patient. A procedure like this requires additional training for surgeons to get used to working from a flat video display, as well as to grow accustomed to moving around long laparoscopic instruments while dealing with delicate tissues. Virtual environments, like virtual reality machines, are an increasingly popular tool for preparing surgeons for laparoscopic procedures.

VIDEO GAMES FOR SURGEONS: Video games are also being used as surgical training and assessment tools. A 2002 study conducted at Beth Israel Medical Center found a strong correlation between video game play and laparoscopic surgery skills (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association Archives). Researchers at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, put Nintendo's interactive gaming system Wii to the test by asking eight trainee doctors to play it for an hour before performing a virtual surgery.

The doctors who played Wii scored 48 percent higher on tool control and performance than those who didn't. The researchers also found games like Marble Mania that require small, precise movements with the hand are especially good for training laparoscopic surgeons. The use of Wii for surgical training could save hospitals from spending on traditional virtual training tools, which can cost significantly more. A training platform based on the Wii console only costs about $250.

THE Wii: The Wii, manufactured by Nintendo, is an interactive gaming console. To play games, players hold a motion-sensitive controller called a "nunchuck" that converts their real-life movements into movements on the screen. There is no shortage of games for this system. Players can choose anything from an adaptation of Mario Kart to movie-based games like Kung Fu Panda, to the new fitness-inducing game Wii Fit. The Wii is not just for household recreation. Another way it is being used medically is in physical therapy. Physical therapists have found the Wii to be a useful tool in rehabilitation following strokes, surgery, broken bones and combat injuries. According to what a physical therapist told USA Today, Wii games use movements similar to those used in traditional physical therapy, but patients get so mentally involved they are often oblivious to the rigor involved. The most popular games used in physical therapy involve sports. Therapists at places like Walter Reed Army Medical Center and WakeMed Health in Raleigh, N.C., are using Wii-based exercises in their programs.

 

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