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Wii for surgeons

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Q&A with Dr. Mark Smith and a news report regarding use of Nintendo Wii to train surgeons from News 8 Austin.

Mark Smith, M.D., a gynecological surgeon at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, explains how the Nintendo Wii is helping train new surgeons.

Q: Part of your job is to train residents learning to be surgeons?

Smith: Yes. I have been in teaching for over 20 years and one of my responsibilities is training residents in surgery.

Q: When you started your job did you ever think you would be using video games to train?

Smith: I have never thought I’d be in video games to this extent. We have surgical simulators in virtual reality, but this has taken it to a whole new level, which is exciting.

Q: What have you found that the Nintendo Wii can do for practicing surgeons and for people learning how to perform surgery?

Smith: One of the problems we’ve had over the years is we had no method to teach surgeons surgical skills without going into surgery. We now have simulators that help them develop those skills. The problem is they are incredibly expensive — like a flight simulator for a pilot. This gives us a much less costly way to train these fine motor skills that the surgeons employ during surgery.

Q: Can a video game really help somebody improve as a surgeon?

Smith: We used cyber gloves which computerize hand movements of surgeons and we put those on surgeons. We have data on that. We put them on people playing the Wii. There is a very, very high correlation between the two and this is documented statistically.

Q: What did you find happens to the skills of people when they train this way as opposed to those who don’t train this way?

Smith: They develop an increased efficiency, less errors, more fluid movements … they’re just better.

Q: What has been the traditional method of training?

Smith: Up until the last ten years, they learned in actual surgery … what’s called the apprentice method — standing beside an expert surgeon, watching and helping to do it.

Q: Does this generation of doctors, having grown up playing video games, tend to be better at this training?

Smith: Actually, they tend to be better, but that’s not all of it. We can expand the skills that they have developed growing up. They certainly jump in a lot quicker. There is less training to start. For instance, in laparoscopy, which has differences than the more traditional type surgery, but it’s really as much an innate ability as it is for what they’ve grown up with.

Q: Have you adapted the Wii to use actual surgical tools?

Smith: We are using the actual tools. What some people don’t realize is there are very basic skills we have to teach. If you teach someone to drive a car, you first have to teach them how to put the gas down … put the break down. You have to learn all these skills before you can drive a car.

Q: What kind of skills are they learning by doing this?

Smith: Very fine motor skills … very precise, exact movements that surgeons need to know and have the ability to do. This teaches them those fine movements — fine motor skills — so that they are very proficient in those types of skills when they go into surgery.

Q: What did your study on this new training technique show?

Smith: Our initial pilot study … we showed a 50 percent improvement in their surgical skill level just by playing on the Wii.

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Emergency physician, blogger (ivor-kovic.com), innovator (ivormedical.com), researcher (researchgate.net/profile/Ivor_Kovic), speaker (youtu.be/Q-E-B3Pc8mk)...

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