Video Gaming Skills May Translate to Robotic Surgery

By Breanna Draxler | December 13, 2012 10:04 am

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) is in the top tier when it comes to robotic surgeries. But when UTMB’s doctors training to be surgeons performed robotic simulations side by side with video game-playing high school and college students, the young gamers actually beat them out. The results were presented at a conference on minimally invasive gynecology [pdf] in November.

The surgery simulation used in the study resembles a video game booth. It has a two-handed control system and a screen for the user to watch his or her actions in real time. In the study, students and doctors used robotic arms to perform tasks that mimic suturing, passing needles, and lifting surgical instruments. The researchers then measured the subject’s performance in 20 skill areas including precision, steadiness and tension of the subjects’ movements. Researchers found that the students had an edge in hand-eye coordination and dexterity—skills likely honed over long hours with video game controllers. But the gamers were not so adept when it came to non-robotic surgical techniques. When participants had to perform non-robotic exercises to test laparoscopic surgery skills, the resident physicians blew the gamers out of the water.

Advances in robotic medical technology now allow for less invasive surgeries, and the use of these practices is on the rise. But new surgical techniques continue to evolve and many surgeons practicing today never learned how to perform robotic surgeries in medical school. Facilities like UTMB have responded by requiring all medical students to train with robotic surgery simulators (see video below). Based on the results of the study, the researchers say they need to rethink the way robotic surgery is taught.

As the next, more techno savvy generation heads to medical school, gamers may have an advantage when it comes to robotic surgery skills. But their dexterity alone, as with the students in the study, is not enough to make good surgeons. Future medical students will have to find a balance between playing video games to hone their hand-eye coordination and studying for the MCATS like their surgery savvy but less robotically inclined predecessors.

Video courtesy of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

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