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Playing Nintendo Wii Makes You A Better Surgeon

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 02, 2013 08:38 AM EST

Playing Nintendo Wii could make you a better surgeon, a recent study suggests.

Research for the study was conducted at the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy. In coming to their results, the researchers had 21 surgical residents play the video game system for one hour per day, five days a week, for four weeks. Afterward, residents were asked to perform a simulated keyhole surgery. The results indicated that those who played the games performed considerably better than residents who did not play the video games.

"We had a lot of fun," says University of Rome Medical School professor Dr. Gregorio Patrizi, "Research doesn't need to be boring."

Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure in which tiny cameras and surgical instruments are inserted into the body, negating the need for a large incision. The camera's image is projected on a screen while the surgeon controls the instruments using an outside handle.

But performing surgery in this way can be difficult for those not accustomed to it, and the researchers had a hunch that something might make the task easier.

"The study arose from an intuition:" Patrizi says, "We noticed that some people were more adaptable at their first attempt on the (laparoscopic) simulator. We investigated, almost kidding, to see if they were 'nerds' used to playing video games, and it turned out that there was a strange coincidence."

So the researchers decided to do a study of their own, and the results were astonishing.

"The differences in outcomes between the two groups were far beyond our expectations," Patrizi says. "What surprised us the most was that almost all the results were clearly statistically significant, even in complex procedures like virtual cholecystectomy."

Prior studies have shown that video gaming could improve spatial attention and eye-hand coordination in laparoscopic procedures and Patrizi's is one of the first structured trials to actually put this to the test. That said, the benefits of playing the Wii might be limited to beginning surgeons.

"I'm skeptical that at an advanced level that would help the surgeon become better," Dr Brant Oelschlager, chief of the University of Washington's Center for Videoendoscopic Surgery, said. "At some point, it starts to have diminishing returns and you have to gain the rest of your skills in a real patient."

Regardless, Patrizi and his team feel that the Wii could be a useful, inexpensive and fun tool for surgical training.

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