Young surgeons who spent many hours playing video games as children make fewer mistakes at the operating table, according to a surgeon who has researched the issue.
"I use the same hand-eye coordination to play video games as I use for surgery," said James "Butch" Rosser, M.D., 49, who demonstrated the results of his study Tuesday at Manhattan's Beth Israel Medical Center.
He said the skill needed for laparoscopic surgery -- using a tiny camera and instruments controlled by joysticks outside the body -- is "like tying your shoelaces with 3-foot-long chopsticks."
Rosser's study on whether good video-game skills translate into surgical prowess was based on testing 33 fellow doctors -- 12 attending physicians and 21 medical school residents -- who participated from May to August 2003. Each doctor completed three video-game tasks that tested such factors as motor skills, reaction time and eye-hand coordination.
Doctors who had spent at least three hours a week playing games like Super Monkey Ball make 37% fewer mistakes in laparoscopy and perform the task 27% faster than their counterparts who didn?t play video games, according to researchers with Beth Israel and the National Institute on Media and the Family at Iowa State University.
Laparoscopic surgery is performed on just about any part of the body, from an appendix to the colon and gall bladder. Surgeons can now practice their techniques through video simulations.
The minimally intrusive surgery involves making tiny keyhole incisions, inserting a tiny video camera that sends images to an external video screen, with the surgical tools remotely controlled by the surgeon watching the screen.
"Yes, here we go!" said Rosser, sitting in front of a Super Monkey Ball game, which shoots a ball into a confined goal. "This is a nice, wholesome game. No blood and guts. But I need the same kind of skill to go into a body and sew two pieces of intestine together."
Rosser, a Mississippi native, was headed toward a career as a football player when he decided to study medicine. Before moving to Beth Israel about a year and half ago as head of its Advanced Medical Technology Institute, he was a professor of surgery at Yale University.
"The games develop parts of the brain that are later available for other tasks, like surgery," said the study's co-author, Paul Lynch, M.D., a Beth Israel anesthesiologist who has studied the effects of video games for years. The study "landmarks the arrival of Generation X into medicine," Lynch added.
Beth Israel is now experimenting with applying the findings. Rosser has developed a course called Top Gun, in which surgical trainees warm up their coordination, agility and accuracy with a video game before entering the operating room.
"It's like a good football player," Rosser said. "You have to warm up first."