Games give virtual edge to U nurses

  • Article by: SIMON BENARROCH
  • Minnesota Daily
  • June 29, 2012 - 11:30 PM

After years of brutalizing virtual monsters, soldiers and zombies, gamers can finally begin to make amends -- at least the nurses.

The University of Minnesota School of Nursing is helping to develop several simulation games in which future health care providers will apply detailed knowledge of medical procedures to care for virtual patients.

Tom Clancy, a clinical professor at the Nursing School, has been working with the software company VitalSims and the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) on these "serious games," which he said are in preliminary stages.

Clancy said simulation is not new in health care, but it is a shift to see games being taken more seriously as an educational tool. While training mannequins and virtual simulations have been proven effective, their high cost hinders availability.

While basic simulation software was available online, Clancy called it passive simulation. It was designed to demonstrate various biological functions, but he said it lacks the narrative and user engagement games offer.

"Serious games have been used for years by the military," he said. "They've had tremendous success. There's no reason other industries can't have success with it, too."

According to Clancy, serious games provide the same kind of learning found in shadowing or lab training.

But those methods can't guarantee that med students will experience a wide variety of situations, while with a game, "you can control all of the different events," he said.

"When you're in that environment, you often have to make decisions under pressure," he said. "It's the same learning that's going on with a game."

Clancy said gaming is not set to replace any of the familiar components of education, but it will supplement book work and lectures. "Every time you go from one modality to another, you're doing a different kind of learning," he said.

VitalSims' CEO Chris Duncan cited a 2008 study that showed serious gaming to assist information retention 91 percent more effectively than lecture attendance.

"We're still trying to tease out exactly how to implement gaming in education." Serious gaming is, Clancy said, "in its infancy."

The games will include multiplayer option and cover a wide variety of cases, to give a breadth of experience, Duncan said. He said cultural considerations are also planned, such as settings that account for different languages and religious beliefs. There will also be scoreboards, to encourage improvement through competition.

Linda Olson Keller, another U professor of nursing, is supportive of Clancy's and the MHA's project. She described a similar initiative by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use games to promote public health. One game, called "HealthBound," challenges players to solve health-related problems and then scores their results and encourages them to get involved in various community programs.

Another, from the Chicago Department of Public Health, is designed to prepare for a possible anthrax outbreak.

Keller described this method of education as "the way of the future."

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