Don't let a smart kid hear about this.  I can see hear it now: "But Mom, to become a surgeon I just HAVE to play this video game." That's right, apparently, some surgeons are starting their training on Wii's to establish dexterity, etc.

According to a very small and very preliminary study, playing certain video games on the Nintendo game console, helps surgical residents to hone their fine motor skills and improve their performance on a serious surgery simulator.  It's being used as a warm up to the more complicated virtual surgery equipment.

Currently, the more sophisticated simulator is the sort of thing that’s used right now to help doctors do a better job on keyhole surgery using tiny instruments outfitted with video cameras (i.e. gallbladder surgery, laproscopy, etc).  Also, the improvements in simulator performance didn’t come from just any Wii, or any game.  For example, Marble Mania is an appropriate one. Tennis, not so much.  “The key is to have subtle hand movements,” Dr. Kahol, one of the authors of the study, told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog. “You can’t hit a tennis swing and expect to become a better surgeon. You need fine motor control.”

Kahol, a biomedical informatics expert affiliated with Arizona State and a hospital chain called Banner Health, worked with Marshall Smith, a Banner surgeon, to see if Wii-ing (?!?) improved residents’ scores on a standard simulator for minimally invasive, or laparoscopic, surgery.  So they bought a standard golf-club add on for the Wii, then cut off most of the golf club and added a laparoscopic probe.

Out of a group of 16 residents, eight were assigned to play Marble Mania and a suite of games called Wii Play, with the specially-rigged controller. The other eight didn’t get to play. (Aww...) Then all 16 did a simulated laparoscopic procedure (something having to do with a simulated gallbladder).

 Kahol reported that,  to a standard score that measures performance on the simulation, the ones who had played the Wii showed 48% more improvement on the procedure than those who hadn’t.  These results seemed exciting enough that the researchers planeed on presenting their results at the Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference in 2008. 

After the conference, Kahol and Smith plan to develop a full-blown surgery simulator for the Wii. Meanwhile,  at Smith’s hospital there is a Wii in the room where residents take cat naps while they’re on call. We asked if the residents get competitive about the Wii. “They’re surgery residents, what do you expect?” Smith said.