Video Games Help Surgeons with Dexterity and More

Endoscopic Spine SurgerySurgery

Orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Praveen Kadimcherla explains why surgeons should play as hard as they work.

The next time you're scheduled for minimally invasive surgery – such as the types used for many back and neck procedures – you may want to ask your surgeon how often he plays video games. Finding a surgeon who plays as hard as he or she works, at least when it comes to video games, has been proven to help dexterity and several other crucial skills surgeons employ in the operating room, according to Praveen Kadimcherla, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Atlantic Spine Center.

Much research over the past decade has examined how video games – which can be eerily similar to surgical simulators used to train young doctors – enhance surgical prowess by improving hand-eye coordination, reaction time, problem-solving and other abilities surgeons rely on to perform at the highest levels, explains Dr. Kadimcherla, who is fellowship-trained in orthopedic and neurosurgery spine.

"Many patients would never guess that their surgeon might not only like video games, but can use them to do their jobs even better," says Dr. Kadimcherla. "But it's a novel idea that has its basis in scientific fact."

Gaming Benefits

Researchers have proven time and again that "gaming" might be part of a good day's work for both new and established surgeons. Some of the most convincing evidence includes:

  • A 2011 study published in the journal Surgical Endoscopy of 33 laparoscopic surgeons – who use a tiny camera and instruments controlled by "joysticks" outside the body – showed that those who played video games involving hand-eye coordination at least three hours per week made about 37% fewer mistakes in the operating room. These surgeons also completed surgical tasks 27% quicker than doctors who didn't play video games.
  • A study presented at the 2008 American Psychological Association (APA) meeting suggested that surgeons who played video games requiring dexterity and spatial skills – and then performed a drill testing these skills – were much faster at their first attempt than surgeons who didn't play the games first. The speed advantage lasted across all 10 drill performances, with a whopping 303 laparoscopic surgeons analyzed.
  • A study from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, also presented at the 2008 APA meeting, indicated that strategy-focused games such as World of Warcraft helped doctors sharpen their scientific thinking skills by working through problems similar to what they face in the operating room. Set in a fantasy world where players advance faster when working together, the game codes reward reasoning, predicting and using evaluative processes integral to scientific reasoning.

Of course, primitive video games such as Pong probably aren't as useful to surgeons as World of Warcraft, and not all video games confer the same effects. Those most beneficial to surgeons seem to depend on a game's content, how often it's played, what grabs players' attention onscreen, and how players control the motions.

"Whether used as a training tool for traditional "open" surgery, laparoscopic, or robot-assisted surgery – which is also minimally invasive – the relevance of video games far exceeds what we thought it might be back in the time of Pacman or Space Invaders," Dr. Kadimcherla says.

Preparation for Surgery

If you're planning minimally invasive surgery to treat conditions of the neck or back, such as those performed by Dr. Kadimcherla and his colleagues at Atlantic Spine, you may want to ask your surgeon if video games happen to be part of his regular routine. Many other factors are indicative of accomplished surgeons – and of course, should be taken into account – but a video game pastime might suggest a surgeon's interest and willingness to stay on top of their professional game, he says.

"A lot of us at Atlantic Spine Center play video games for fun and are gratified to know they're making us better prepared for our patients," Dr. Kadimcherla says. "The complex dexterity required to be good at both gaming and minimally invasive surgery are strikingly similar. It's definitely a win-win situation for everyone involved."