Surgeons hone skills with Wii

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
July 10, 2008 4:28:13 PM PDT
The latest wave of video game technology is doing much more than keeping teenagers entertained.The Nintendo Wii is also working wonders for surgeons.

Dr. Jeff Henke, a surgical resident at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, is playing games in hopes of becoming a better surgeon.

The control sticks on the Wii he uses are actually probes, the same kind he'll use in the operating room.

"This does really help," Dr. Henke said. "It kind of coordinates your hand movements, gets you prepared to go into the operating room and perform laparoscopic surgery."

Doctors had to make a few adjustments to turn the Wii accessories into surgical tools. Using cyber gloves to record and measure hand movements, bioinformatics expert Dr. Kanav Kahol made a discovery, that the coordination used to play the games is similar to what's needed in laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery.

Simulators that train doctors for surgery often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a pilot study at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital found playing the specially adapted Wii improved residents' skills by 50 percent.

"This gives us a much less costly way to train on fine motor skills that surgeons employ in surgery," said Dr. Mark Smith, co-developer and a gynecological surgeon at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital.

Dr. Smith says the Wii has taken training to a whole new level.

"They develop an increased efficiency, less errors, more fluid movement," he said. "They're just better."

Dr. Henke knows there's no restart button in real surgery, but for now, he's sharpening his skills one game at a time.

Researchers say these computer games could give surgeons a way to improve their skills at home, and could even provide surgeons in third world countries a less expensive way to become more proficient.


Mark Smith, MD
Banner Good Samaritan Hospital
Phoenix, AZ
(602) 239-6507


STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg