wii surgeryPicture this: you’re getting prepped for surgery (it’s minor, nothing to worry about…) and you notice that your surgeon is not scrubbing or checking charts. He’s playing the Nintendo Wii. Your first impulse is to bolt off the table, collect your insurance card and get the heck out of there. But wait. Nintendo’s wildly popular little machine may have yet another use—honing the fine motor skills of surgeons. And it seems to work.

Kanav Kahol and Marshall Smith of the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, have found that surgical residents performed better during simulated surgery after playing on the Wii console, citing the console’s novel “Wiimote” control system, which allows players to direct on-screen action using a wireless wand that detects acceleration in three dimensions.

Now they are designing Wii software that will accurately simulate surgical procedures. A training platform based on the console, which costs about $250, might be more practical for trainee surgeons in the developing world than traditional training tools which typically cost a great deal more.

To test how the Wii affected surgical skill, the researchers asked eight trainee doctors to play it for an hour before performing a virtual surgery. They used a training tool called ProMIS, which simulates a patient’s body in 3D and tracks the surgeon’s movements as they operate. They fed the movements to an algorithm which scores the virtual surgeon on a range of factors. Wii-playing residents scored 48 per cent higher on tool control and performance than those without the Wii warm-up. The researchers also found that some games – such as Marble Mania, in which the player guides a marble through a 3D obstacle course – are especially good because players must use small, precise movements of the wand. Others were less useful: “You don’t gain a lot from swinging an imaginary tennis racket,” says Kahol.

Kahol and Smith believe that the Wii has the most potential of any console for trainee surgeons. They tracked participants’ hand motions while playing Wii and during virtual surgery, using a glove laced with motion sensors and showed that the motions were very similar. “The whole point about surgery is to execute small, finely controlled movements with your hands, and that is exactly what you get playing Wii,” says Kahol. They’ve employed the EST CyberGlove, a fully instrumented glove that provides up to 22 high-accuracy joint-angle measurements. It uses bend-sensing technology to accurately transform hand and finger motions into real-time digital joint-angle data.

The idea isn’t entirely new. James Rosser of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York had previously found that video games can also improve the dexterity crucial to performing minimally invasive surgery.

This may be one more way that gamers are, indeed, taking over the world.

Source: NewScientistTech.Magazine (Issue 2639, January, 2008) and Archives of Surgery, Vol 142.