Gaming moved from the video arcade to military bases and flight schools years ago. The next set of gamers could reshape health care.
Historically, medical education has taken place in silos. Doctors are trained with doctors, nurses with nurses, pharmacists with pharmacists. Then, the health professionals are thrown together, in a hospital emergency room for example, and expected to work together in perfect unison.
Turns out, collaboration needs to be learned too.
Which is where health gaming comes in.
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) just launched an educational gaming company, called Professions Quest, and will soon release its first product, a futuristic multi-player medical mission game.
"In a game world, you can bring everyone together from all the healthcare professions," says Ruth Nemire, associate executive vice president of the AACP and the leading force behind the new "Mimycx" game.
She says when it comes to teaching future medical workers, the facts are online. But how to work with colleagues – like pharmacists to understand a patient’s allergies, or social workers to put patients’ financial ability to pay for medications – that’s a skill that needs to be honed with experience.
The starting point for players in Mimycx is a giant room, not unlike the United Nations, with a bright, spinning globe. From there, Nemire explains, students will select a mission, such as diagnosing a patient with a disease.
“Having this virtual environment,” Nemire says, “Where they’re focused on how to communicate with each other, how to lead the team, that sometimes somebody else has to lead the team, gives them experience and a chance to make errors and mistakes that’s safe.”
There are aspects of the game that reward, even require teamwork. Like a bar at the top of the screen that tracks your “awareness” level – not unlike a life bar in some video games. If you are exhausted, you better take a break to recharge before taking out that scalpel.
There’s also going to be peer assessment – which happens in games like League of Legends – so you can rate your colleagues on skills like communication and team work.
Collaboration For Health
There’s a national movement to incorporate interprofessional medical education at universities.
Dr. Alan Dow, who directs the Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care at Virginia Commonwealth University, says schools are trying to incorporate collaboration earlier on so that health care workers will be better team members when it comes time to care for patients.
A Cochrane Review on Interprofessional education and health care outcomes showed that an emphasis on collaborative learning had positive outcomes in the culture of emergency department and patient satisfaction, collaborative team behavior and reduction of clinical error rates for emergency department teams. Still, there is little research on the effectiveness of multi-player games for health care education because they are so new.
The Virtual Emergency Room
The biggest challenge to interprofessional education is trying to get students all in the same room. Online, that’s easy.
“The great thing about gaming is it gets the students something for them to accomplish and you see them team up together to try and collaborate at win the game, and that’s the kind of learning that really has impact.”
Dow’s team at VCU has developed a web-based virtual forum where medical team members each have different pieces of information about a patient. They have to share their knowledge to make an accurate diagnosis and earn points. So far four schools across the country are using the forum, and the University of North Texas will start this fall.
Of course virtual realities aren’t real life.
“It’s far away from real patients,” Dow says. “So [gaming is] a stepping stone, it’s a way of moving from working by yourself as a student in a classroom taking a test to now collaborating virtually.”
The hope is that when graduates take the final step — interacting in the real world, with real patients — they’ll have a solid understanding of team-based medical care.