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This video game helps doctors perform better in severe trauma situations

Physicians who played the game had a 53% failure rate, compared to 74% for those who studied the textbooks.

The Night Shift video game
The Night Shift video game
Image: Schell Games

PLAYING VIDEO GAMES is better than text-based learning for priming real doctors to quickly recognise and treat severe trauma in patients, new research has found.

Researchers have found that doctors who played an adventure video game featuring a fictitious, young emergency physician treating severe trauma patients were better at recognising patients who needed higher levels of care than doctors who used text-based learning methods.

Although the game helped the doctors perform better, they enjoyed it less than those assigned to traditional, text-based education.

“Physicians must make decisions quickly and with incomplete information,” lead author Deepika Mohan, from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said.

“An hour of playing the video game recalibrated physicians’ brains to such a degree that, six months later, they were still outperforming their peers in recognising severe trauma.”

Mohan created the game Night Shift for the research. The game is designed to tap into the part of the brain that uses pattern recognition and previous experience to make snap decisions using subconscious mental shortcuts – a process called heuristics.

Physicians in non-trauma centres typically see just about one severe trauma per 1,000 patients, according to the researchers.

As a result, their heuristic abilities can become skewed towards obvious injuries such as gunshot wounds, and miss equally severe traumas such as internal injuries from falls.

On average in the US, 70% of severely injured patients who present to non-trauma centres are under-triaged and not transferred to trauma centres as recommended by clinical practice.

The game’s motive 

Both the game and the text-based learning are intended to help physicians improve their decision making regarding severe traumas.

The game, however, did this through narrative engagement to promote behaviour change, which has shown promise in recalibrating heuristics.

Mohan’s team used 368 emergency medicine physicians from across the US who didn’t work at hospitals with trauma specialisation. Half were assigned to play the game and half were asked to spend at least an hour reading the educational material.

Participants also responded to questionnaires and completed a simulation that tested how often they “under-triaged”, or failed to send severe trauma patients to hospitals with the resources necessary to handle them.

Physicians who played the game under-triaged 53% of the time, compared to 74% for those who had read the educational material.

“There are many reasons beyond the doctor’s heuristics as to why a severe trauma patient wouldn’t be transferred to a trauma centre, ranging from not having an ambulance available to a lack of proper diagnostic tools,” Mohan said.

“So, it is important to emphasize that recalibrating heuristics won’t completely solve the under-triage problem and that the problem isn’t entirely due to physicians’ diagnostic skills.

But it’s heartening to know we’re on track to develop a game that shows promise at improving on current educational training.

Read: Majority of patients wait longer than six hours in an emergency department to be seen by a doctor

More: One in five women doctors in Ireland claim to have been sexually harassed

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