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Health beat: Patient safety is no game - until now

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • June 21, 2012 - 5:43 PM

As Thomas Clancy points out, there's nothing fun about sitting through a PowerPoint presentation on bedsores.

But he thinks they're a perfect topic for a video game.

Clancy, an assistant dean of nursing at the University of Minnesota, is working on just such a game as part of an unusual effort to improve patient safety at Minnesota hospitals.

About a year ago, Clancy joined forces with the Minnesota Hospital Association and a Twin Cities design firm, VitalSims, to create a series of games to help train hospital workers in some serious subjects -- such as preventing falls and pressure ulcers (bedsores).

"We're looking for new and innovative ways, and very efficient ways, to provide training to staff," Clancy said. Gaming, he believes, can be a great way to do it -- by simulating problems and making them, well, fun.

"They're not unlike the games that kids play," he said. In one game, for example, a player might enter a hospital room and score points by identifying how many potential hazards (such as rugs or misplaced furniture) could cause a patient to fall. "Almost like a treasure hunt," he said.

Just as in some kids' games, players race against time and each other. They have to make decisions fast, and some paths lead to disaster.

"It's all to get people excited about training, because a lot of these subjects, quite frankly, aren't very exciting," Clancy said. The military has long used video games in training, he says, and he believes they hold great promise in health care. "They engage you, they motivate you," he said, and they've been shown to improve critical thinking skills as well. The first game may be available to Minnesota hospitals this fall.

That's not to say they're doing away with old-fashioned lectures, which he says are a good way to introduce information. But "if you really want to hard-wire it into your thinking, then you need to get in there and do it. The gaming environment is like actually doing it."

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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