Video Games Boost Intrinsic Motivation for Doctors’ Lifelong Learning

By Eric Gantwerker, MD, MMSc, FACS, Vice President & Medical Director, Level Ex
Twitter: @LevelExTeam
Twitter: @DrEricGant

Don’t miss Eric on The Incrementalist with Dr. Nick starting next week June 10th on HealthcareNOW Radio.

While headlines are often dominated by cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics, physician exposure to the world of tech has been hindered by a lack of applications that take into account the unique desires and pain points of doctors, not to mention involving doctors with the applications’ development.

It is no secret that doctors are disillusioned with the poor design and burden of the electronic healthcare record (EHR). The multiple box-clicking programs physicians are required to participate in to remain credentialed and avoid financial penalties has forced subpar technologies onto doctors without consideration of clinical workflow, job satisfaction, or work life balance. The additional non-clinical duties have soured doctors and left many with a justifiable skepticism when it comes to technology.

The extrinsic motivation of reaching prescribed benchmarks such as Meaningful Use, Continuing Medical Education (CME), and the latest controversial to-do for physicians, Maintenance of Certification (MOC), has not panned out for physicians and has actually further diminished the personal rewards gained from practicing medicine.

Estimates on doctor burnout range from 44 percent to as high as 78 percent, according to recent surveys from the American Medical Association and a leading consortium from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association. Not only are doctors exhausted from the extra hours spent documenting in an EHR instead of caring for patients, they are also frustrated that their input was not considered in the first place when these strangling requirements were implemented.

One inflection point where physicians can realize the benefits of combining the two highly complex but siloed fields of medicine and technology is medical apps. The widespread use of mobile devices has enveloped even the occasionally technology-resistant physician workforce, with many doctors downloading medical apps such as interactive anatomy atlases, medical calculators, and drug reference guides to simplify their daily workflow.

The slow to adopt, slow to evolve mantra also surfaces in medical training, where “because we’ve always done it that way” reigns supreme. Traditional medical training is based on somewhat archaic methods that often fail to leverage technology effectively. This has created a ripple effect where mid- and senior-level doctors have typically disregarded or been skeptical of innovation, creating a gap in medical training and continuing medical education. While tech native physicians can more easily engage both worlds, a gap remains for most, and it must be addressed.

If extrinsic motivation is not working to encourage technology use among doctors, perhaps intrinsically motivating them will yield better results. The opportunity is significant, and the challenge is in addressing it with 21st century technology that doctors actually want to interact with and use in any rare downtime they may have.

Enter the world of mobile medical video games
Mobile medical video games that are free to download and accessible anywhere at any time have multiple benefits for physician learning. The challenge for physicians is overcoming the pain points of extremely limited free time, and for some, minimal experience with technology and lack of interest in adding something else onto their already heavy plate.

But because mobile devices are virtually ubiquitous in most physicians’ personal lives, they are an ideal entry point for tech adoption. For example, most EHRs have an app for busy doctors to use on their mobile devices when they can not get in front of a desktop and need to quickly look up patient information. Harnessing this nascent trend by increasing exposure to downloaded apps brings mobile medical video games one step closer to the physician tech world.

I have seen this first hand with medical video game company Level Ex. Only three years after launching, more than 350,000 medical professionals are playing the company’s games, engaging with the games for up to 10 minutes per session. Physicians who play these medical video games in their downtime or between cases enjoy the new techniques they have to learn, the rare and challenging cases the games present, and the competition that exists within the games. Physicians can be intrinsically motivated by engaging with this type of activity that sparks a high level of curiosity and interest.

One incentive to developing intrinsic motivation for this method of learning is attaining flow state, defined as an altered state of consciousness in which the mind functions at its peak, time may seem distorted, and a sense of happiness prevails, according to Farlex’s Medical Dictionary. In such a state, the individual feels fully attentive to the task at hand. Anyone who has gotten lost in their favorite consumer video game can attest to the deep focus achieved during a flow state, which also can occur during many other types of activities. When doctors play video games designed around real patient cases, physicians can attain a flow state, maintaining extreme focus, hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and a sense of active control, all of which are highly desirable skills for a person performing surgery and other complex medical procedures.

If a physician is in a state of flow or total immersion, the knowledge acquired can be transferable to real-life medical situations when calm, focus, and efficiency are paramount. Similarly, flight simulators have been used for training by the U.S. military for nearly a century—a testament to their efficacy and impact.

Intrinsically motivating physicians to embrace and engage the intersection of technology and medicine is a challenge but a necessity to keep up with the increasing demands of modern medicine. As technology continues to evolve, doctors need to move alongside of the evolution and become an active part of solutions for training that can boost not only physicians’ skills but also their morale. The cherry on top is when physicians can earn CME credit while playing a game that just happens to be really fun.

Eric Gantwerker, MD will be a guest on Dr. Nick: The Incrementalist the week of June 10th. Dr. Nick & Eric will talk gaming and medicine and how they can bring the engagement and technology to healthcare.

About the Show
For years Dr. Nick van Terheyden aka Dr. Nick, has served as a voice on the impact of new technologies on healthcare, earning a reputation as a leading authority on where the future of medicine is going. Combining powers of observation and real world experience, Dr. Nick has seen many predictions come true and makes the case that innovations in healthcare can be accomplished incrementally, not just by moonshot events. Tune in to Dr. Nick: The Incrementalist to hear Dr. Nick and his guests discuss what the future of healthcare looks like, how we will get there, and what it will take to improve healthcare for all. Show rebroadcasts at 4:00am, 12 noon, and 8:00pm ET every weekday.