Games and costs for medical education

For medical education to successfully make a transition to a video game metaphor, a lot of its rules need to change.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

It's no surprise that Elizabeth Armstrong Moore at CNET found today's medical students find learning-through-gaming appealing.

Complex concepts need complex tools to get through quickly. An immersive video game brings it all to life. Start-ups like Medical Cyberworlds are emerging to meet the need. But the firm's lack of a working Web site demonstrates the heart of the problem.


(Image from the Federation of American Scientists, contained in a Science Daily press release about the medical game Immune Attack.

While a video game program can be distributed cheaply, the economics are still highly problematic. The idea works best in the military where money is not an issue. Once the program's fixed costs are paid for, however, it can go directly into the consumer market.

Unfortunately there may be a limited consumer market for programs that simulate complex medical procedures, or diagnosis. And the number of medical students against whom costs would have to be amortized is pretty small.

By contrast a book can be written by a single individual, or a small team. A lecture is given by a single professor. Even when the book's price is high, even when the medical professor's salary is high, the costs are still much lower than those associated with high-end video game development.

Consider, for instance, that titles for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 can now cost $20-30 million to produce. The economics of games are increasingly those of movies, where millions need to be sold quickly, and continuing revenue streams must be developed for success to happen.

For medical education to successfully make a transition to a video game metaphor, a lot of its rules need to change.

  • The curriculum must become standardized. You can't have each school doing things differently if one tool's cost must be amortized across all.
  • Medical training needs to be built on engines. You can start with a video game engine, but build a standard medical engine on top of it. Then enhance it.
  • An open core model is imperative. You have to get cash for real medical education, but you also have to share costs.

Right now groups like Open Health Tools are focused on creating on building software that delivers medical values to the mass market. Mass markets like chronic care and personal health records are the focus.

But maybe some meetings need to be held with medical schools, and a committee formed that can start building a template on which to build training tools. Then send some lab coats to next year's E3.

Or start with a call to the Federation of American Scientists, which is already teaching immunology to high school students using a video game called Immune Attack. What would it take to add medical school coursework to such a platform?

Meanwhile, medical school leaders need to contemplate how software will change the economics of what they do, and figure out a way to adapt to it.

How would you proceed?

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