Video game improves physician triage of severe trauma patients

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Physicians who played a video game showing a young doctor treating severe trauma patients were better able to distinguish patients in need of higher level of care, according to a study published in The BMJ.

Physicians in non-trauma setting usually see only one severe patient in 1,000, which obstructed their decisions and led to 70 percent of severely injured patients to be under-triaged and not transferred to trauma centers. In response, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine tested the effectiveness of a video game in helping physician make accurate, quick decisions.

"Physicians must make decisions quickly and with incomplete information. Each year, 30,000 preventable deaths occur after injury, in part because patients with severe injuries who initially present to non-trauma centers are not promptly transferred to a hospital that can provide appropriate care," said lead author Deepika Mohan, MD, MPH, assistant professor in Pitt's departments of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery. "An hour of playing the video game recalibrated physicians' brains to such a degree that, six months later, they were still out-performing their peers in recognizing severe trauma."

The study enrolled 368 emergency physicians, providing half with conventional text-based learning material they had to read for an hour and the other participants with the Night Shift game where users experienced a physician treating a severely injured patient.

Participants at baseline who had played the game under-triaged 53 percent of the time compared to the 64 percent of participants given the reading material. After six months, the gaming group under-triaged 57 percent of the time while the reading group reported under-triaging 74 percent of the time.

"There are many reasons beyond the doctor's heuristics as to why a severe trauma patient wouldn't be transferred to a trauma center, ranging from not having an ambulance available to a lack of proper diagnostic tools," said Mohan. "So, it is important to emphasize that recalibrating heuristics won't completely solve the under-triage problem and that the problem isn't entirely due to physicians' diagnostic skills. But it's heartening to know we're on track to develop a game that shows promise at improving on current educational training."