Fun and games with surgical simulation training

Surgical residents who go two weeks without practicing their surgical skills will often experience a substantial decline in their technical abilities. To ensure they keep up their skills, hospitals may want to add some fun and cash prizes to simulation training.

Game mechanics may lead to better engagement, improved technical skills and an increase in the cost effectiveness of simulation training, according to a research letter published last week in JAMA Surgery.

Game-based learning is an emerging technology but so far there is little research to demonstrate its value for health professional training. So researchers B. Price Kerfoot, M.D., a urologist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Nicole Kissane, M.D., a general surgeon at Boston Medical Center, conducted a 14-week study with 141 eligible urology and general surgery residents at Boston University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to see if adding competition and prizes to simulation training would boost interest.

Initially, only three residents accepted the invitation to use an $85,000 da Vinci Skills Simulator to practice minimally invasive techniques. They participated in 28 exercises over four sessions, spending 2.7 hours in training. But when Kerfoot and Kissane announced via email that they would conduct a tournament that included prizes like $50 and an iPad, there was a rush of interest. By the 14th week, 21 residents participated in 1,632 exercises over 70 sessions, spending close to 84 hours using the simulator.

The renewed interest led to a decrease in the estimated cost per hour of the simulator from $864 to $74.

Researchers said the use of game mechanics into the simulator education significantly boosted the use of the simulator, especially among urology residents. However, further study is necessary to determine whether surgical residents will continue to use the simulator without the incentive of monetary prizes.

To learn more:
-  read the research letter abstract