Wii Games Boost Performance of Trainee Surgeons, Study Finds

Playing Nintendo Co.’s Wii console improved the performance of surgeons learning operations involving tiny cameras and instruments in a study that suggests the device could have a role to play in educating doctors.

In a trial among 42 post-graduate surgeons in Italy, those who were asked to play Wii games such as Tennis and a 3D battle game an hour a day, five days a week for four weeks did better at 13 out of 16 measures on a surgical simulator than those who didn’t play the games, researchers from Sapienza University of Rome wrote in the journal PLoS One today.

Trainee surgeons commonly hone their keyhole surgery skills on computer simulators such as those made by Cleveland-based Simbionix USA Corp. However, the expense of the machines, combined with the difficulty of a technique that involves maneuvering tiny operating tools through very small incisions, as well as increased risks of lawsuits, have raised the need for training outside the operating theater, researchers led by Gregorio Patrizi from the university’s department of surgical sciences wrote.

“It is hard to suggest that academic institutions adopt a video-game console as a didactic tool for surgery,” Patrizi and colleagues wrote. “We hope this may be a trigger to develop dedicated software aimed to help young surgeons as the economic impact of these consoles is significantly lower than traditional laparoscopic simulators and they provide basic didactic value.”

The researchers said they chose the Wii for the trial because its motion-sensing interface resembles the movements required for keyhole surgery more closely than other video-game consoles.

Gallbladder Removal

They used Simbionix’s LAP Mentor simulator to test all 42 participants before and after the four-week trial. In one task that simulated moving a camera inside a patient, those who had played the Wii were 83 percent more accurate after four weeks, compared with a 10 percent improvement in those who didn’t play the Wii.

In another task that simulated removing a gallbladder, the Wii group had a 35 percent improvement in performing safe cauteries, the practice of burning tissue to remove or close it off, compared with a 12 percent gain for the other group.

“The Nintendo Wii may be adopted in lower-budget institutions or at home by younger surgeons to optimize their training on simulators before performing real procedures,” Patrizi and colleagues wrote.

Eye-Hand Coordination

Previous studies have shown playing video games can enhance spatial attention and eye-hand coordination. Other research has shown they can contribute to childhood obesity, and violent games can make teenagers more aggressive and perform more poorly at school.

Ben Challacombe, a consultant urologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, said that on the basis of the study he’d recommend his students spend time playing the Wii to refine their skills.

“We already knew that people who are good at video games are more easily trainable at laparoscopic keyhole surgery,” Challacombe said in a telephone interview. “What this has shown is that if you train using a computer game you get much better more quickly.”

Challacombe said his students use Simbionix’s da Vinci simulator that sells for about 60,000 pounds ($91,000). A Wii U console sells for 249 pounds, according to Curry’s, a unit of Dixons Retail Plc.

Nintendo, based in Kyoto, is the world’s largest maker of video-game machines. It wasn’t involved in funding the study.

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