Are surgeons using video games for training?

Laparoscopic Surgery and Video Games

Laparoscopic surgeons must be able to connect hand movement to remote movement viewed on a screen.
Laparoscopic surgeons must be able to connect hand movement to remote movement viewed on a screen.
Lester Lefkowitz/Taxi/Getty Images

If you understand the nature of laparoscopic surgery, it's easy to see why playing video games might increase surgical skill. It's intricate, to say the least. Laparoscopic surgery is kind of like a super-high-tech version of the old game Operation, except that in laparoscopic surgery, messing up means a lot more than getting buzzed.

Laparoscopic surgeons operate on colons, gall bladders and almost anything that can be accessed by a small incision. But they never put their hands inside the patient. Instead, they use robotic controls -- essentially a joystick -- to move instruments inserted into the patient through a tiny incision (it's sometimes referred to as a "keyhole surgery"). They watch what they're doing on a video screen. The ability to make an instantaneous connection between hand motion and remote movement viewed on a screen is crucial, because laparoscopic surgeons don't look at their hands. Their hands are moving joystick controls, not scalpels. As luck would have it, that ability is also the mark of a great gamer. The recent study bears out this correlation.

Thirty-three surgeons participated in a two-part process. First, they played three non-medical video games, including Super Monkey Ball, for 25 minutes. Next, they completed a wide variety of virtual laparoscopic surgery techniques. The researchers measured their accuracy and their completion time in both parts.

The results took into account not only the surgeons' performances during the three-month study, but also factored in their level of training, number of years in practice and how many surgeries they'd performed, as well as their video-gaming habits in real life. When all of the factors were considered, the analysis was dramatic [source: ScienceDaily]:

  • The surgeons who had a history of playing video games for more than three hours a week made 37 percent fewer mistakes and completed tasks 27 percent faster than the surgeons who had no history of playing video games.
  • The surgeons who were still playing video games (for any amount of time per week) at the time of the study made 32 percent fewer mistakes and completed tasks 24 percent faster than their never-playing colleagues.
  • The surgeons who scored in the top third of the video-game portion of the study made 47 percent fewer errors and completed tasks 39 percent faster than those who scored in the bottom third.

So what exactly does this mean? Should 24/7 gamers be applying to medical school ASAP? Next, we'll find out how the results relate to the real world.