"The New Game Theory": Update

Doctor's orders: Computer simulation helps train medical residents.

Doctor's orders: Computer simulation helps train medical residents. © 3DiTeams

Last fall, Duke Magazine talked with researchers who study the world of video games as a cultural phenomenon, exploring the games' themes, characters, and narrative structures. But in addition to providing fodder for scholarly inquiry, games can also serve as invaluable training tools in an academic setting.
Jeff Taekman, assistant dean for educational technology and director of the Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center at Duke Medical Center, has worked with videogame developer Virtual Heroes to create a prototype of a computer program that he describes as a "flight simulator for health-care workers."

Using a commercial gaming engine, they've constructed a virtual hospital where instructors can run communication and teamwork drills for medical and nursing students. Simulation participants are assigned roles-physician, nurse, or observer-and, after logging into the simulation, read a brief description of the case. The pilot scenario features a car accident. The vehicle rolled two to three times. The driver was dead at the scene, but the passenger, a twenty-five-year-old male, is being moved to the hospital. Estimated arrival: two minutes.

Duke Magazine, November-December 2007 cover

Team members are sent to the virtual emergency room. They maneuver using a mouse and interact with the virtual patient-listening to his breathing, checking his vital signs on a bedside monitor, inserting various needles and tubes-using simple keystrokes. They speak to each other through headsets.

Playing the "senior physician" in the simulation, Taekman often throws his students curveballs-by ordering them to insert a needle into the wrong side of the patient's chest, for example, or changing labels on blood bags to show that they've expired-to see how they respond. Simulations are recorded and reviewed by the team afterward.

As they run the simulation, Taekman and his team are developing methods to assess its effectiveness as a training tool. They've found, not surprisingly, that younger generations tend to be most comfortable with the new technology.

The virtual training program is currently run in a computer lab directly across the hall from the medical center's real simulation lab, which features hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of mannequins and medical equipment. According to Taekman, it offers several potential advantages over its old-school counterpart. It's cheaper. It's flexible-developers can create endless scenarios. It can accommodate larger teams of users, who can log in from afar. And, as scenarios are expanded, it has potential applications in large-scale disaster preparedness.

Of course, the virtual hospital won't replace the old simulation center, at least not until haptics technology, which integrates the sense of touch, improves significantly. But as far as teamwork and communication training sessions go, Taekman notes, "It's definitely more engaging than a lecture."

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