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The gamification of medicine

The gamification of medicine - and why it's a good thing

There was an old kids’ game in the 1980s called Operation in which players used tweezers to attempt to extract bones and other bits and pieces from a hapless patient called Cavity Sam. If their hand wasn’t steady enough, the patient’s nose lit up red and a buzzer sounded. Oh no! Ha ha, start again.

The game drew on the drama and tension of real-life surgery, and it would be interesting to find out how many kids who later became surgeons remember playing this game. Maybe it was what first inspired some to become doctors.

Fast forward to 2019 and things have moved on a bit in the medical simulation field. Doctors are now playing their way to improved medical competency by using a popular suite of medical training games they can download from the Apple or Google Play Store.

Level Ex creates video games for doctors that deal with specific challenges, like intubating a patient using endoscopy under challenging circumstances or using fluoroscopy to achieve optimum blood flow in a heart patient. The ‘games’ are not just simulations but fully gamified experiences where players are scored in real time for accuracy, speed, damage, device competency and diagnosis skills while performing specific procedures. Which is exactly what happens in medical training facilities with live patients and watchful senior doctors. These apps just speed up the learning curve by allowing multiple attempts at the procedures, and give the physician a dopamine hit when he or she performs well.

Uptake has been rapid, with 400,000 physicians playing the games within two years and competing with their colleagues to get the high score. According to Level Ex, 1 in 4 interventional cardiologists plays their cardiology games.

‘Our focus is on finding the most fun and challenging cases,’ says Level Ex founder and CEO Sam Glassenberg. ‘If you think about CME for doctors, most of it consists of watching a boring lecture, reading an article, doing a multiple-choice test. How does a multiple-choice test vet my skills as a doctor or as a surgeon? Here, you're actually doing the procedure ... and being scored on the patient’s outcome.’

The gamification really is complete – there is not a trace of med school stuffiness, greyness or formality in Level Ex’s training game apps. The descriptions read like ads for the latest XBOX blockbuster: ‘Introducing our newest video game in cardiology. Experience dozens of adrenaline-pumping scenarios—drill through calcified lesions, capture dissociated stents, and treat life-threatening perforations and dissections on virtual patients—while earning CME.’

Individual cases with apps are like ‘missions’ in video games: ‘Prepare for a thrilling ride of perforations and massive bleeds in this edge-of-your-seat endoscopy.’

This just seems to have everything required to be a massive winner. Indeed, it already is. It has the perfect target market (wealthy professionals), the perfect product (fun games with real-world value) and first-class product development (the games are realistic and immersive, and developed with the help of real doctors and in collaboration with their respective professional associations).