Trainee surgeons will soon be practicing operations from the comfort of their sofas after a study found they performed better after playing games on the Nintendo Wii. US researchers are designing software that will allow doctors to carry out simulated surgery using the console's novel control system. The motion sensors in the wireless "Wiimote", a controller the size and shape of a television remote control, allow game players to direct on-screen action by waving it about and pointing it at the screen.
Dr Kanav Kohel and Dr Marshall Smith, of the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Centre in Phoenix, Arizona, are developing a programme that uses this function to help trainees practice the specific physical movements involved in surgical procedures. They believe the software could help surgeons improve their skills by practicing at home, and play an important role in the medical education in the developing world where there is less access to expensive virtual training tools.
The researchers asked eight surgical residents to play games on a Wii for an hour before their performed virtual surgery using a training tool called ProMIS, which simulates a patient's body in 3D and tracks the surgeon's movements as they operate. Those who warmed up using the console scored 48 per cent better for tool control and performance than those who did not.
Certain games, such as Marble Mania, in which players guide a marble through a 3D obstacle course, were found to be particularly good because they involved small, precise movements of the controller. Others were less useful. Dr Kohel told New Scientist magazine: "The whole point about surgery is to execute small, finely controlled movements with your hands, and that is exactly what you get playing.
"But you don't gain a lot from swinging an imaginary tennis racket."
The researchers will present their results at the Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference in Long Beach, California at the end of this month. Another group is helping US veterans get over symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder using computer game simulations of their experiences in Iraq.
News source: Telegraph