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Video Games Help Boost Doctors' Performance During Surgery

Surgeons who played video games before participating in a performance test completed the test more than 11 seconds faster than those doctors who didn't play the games.

Antone Gonsalves

May 24, 2006

3 Min Read

In looking for a good surgeon, it might be wise to find one that plays videogames.

Doctors who shot bad guys in a virtual world before conducting simulated laparoscopic surgery made fewer mistakes than those who didn't, according to a study released Wednesday. Laparoscopy involves the use of long, thin instruments inserted through tiny incisions in the body to perform complicated procedures. Doctors watch their work on a television monitor that's fed images from a small video camera that's among the surgical tools inserted in the patient's body.

The study, conducted by Beth Israel Medical Center in New York in conjunction with the National Institute on Media and the Family, found that surgeons who played videogames before participating in a performance test involving laparoscopy tools completed the test more than 11 seconds faster than those doctors who didn't play the games. The test is set up so that mistakes add time, which means those who performed the tasks quicker made fewer mistakes.

The research involved 303 surgeons who had an average of 13 years of experience and performed an average of 328 laparoscopies.

Dr. James "Butch" Rosser, lead researcher in the study, said the better performance might be the result of the similarities between the surgery and videogame play. Both involve eye-hand coordination on instruments while watching a TV screen.

Other studies show that playing videogames release a chemical in the body called dopamine that develops neural pathways from the brain to the hands. The same pathways, in theory, could be used in surgeries involving similar skills.

"The neural pathways laid down in playing videogames stay dormant until you perform similar tasks with similar instruments," Rosser said. "That, in theory, is what happens."

While the study doesn't prove it, the research suggest that doctors performing other types of surgery requiring videogame-like tasks would also benefit from spending time on a joystick, Rosser said.

"There's a strong tendency that would suggest any surgery or task that has to be done looking at a video screen could be impacted by the findings of this study," he said.

The purpose of the research is to find ways to reduce the number of surgical errors, which cause more than half of the 100,000 deaths each year in the United States due to medical errors, Rosser said.

"If we can use something cheap and over the counter like videogames to help surgeons, then we should be motivated to discover what we should use and how we should use it," he said.

Rosser has been playing videogames since 1972, starting with the Pong tennis game. His favorite games today include Halo 2 and Super Monkey Ball 2.

"I play a wide gamut," he said. "I have five kids and end up playing what they play."

The latest study is a follow up to research that Rosser debuted in 2004. The 51-year-old surgeon developed the Top Gun Laparoscopic Surgery Skill and Suturing Program used in the studies.

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