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Doctor Goes Gamer

News  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   October 01, 2016

Todd Chang, MD, MAcM, gamifies physician education.

This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Todd Chang, MD, MAcM, director for research and scholarship in the division of emergency medicine and transport at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, had always enjoyed playing video games, but he never thought he could apply this interest to his healthcare profession.

But that changed when Chang began using mannequin simulations as a part of training, which led him to think of ways physician education could be improved through technology. Soon after, he met representatives of the Hunt Valley, Maryland–based game design company BreakAway LTD at a conference. BreakAway's developers allowed Chang to use their infrastructure to develop VitalSigns, a video game–based training tool that allows emergency room staff and leaders to practice their resource and personnel management skills through a video game–based simulation.

On getting fellow professionals to take video game training seriously: I'm passionate about video games, and I feel that much of my career has been spent trying to prove the legitimacy of what I do. When I tell people what I do, they do one of three things: First, just kind of stare at me, then walk away; second, they are utterly fascinated by the novelty, but don't understand the actual impact it might have; and then, there's that rare population of people who think about the implications of a generation of clinicians and healthcare staff who grew up with this technology and interaction, and they understand that this is how we learned and socialized.

On what you can't teach via games: The hardest things to teach in a video game setting are professionalism and communication. I think that requires a lot more human contact, where I can tell by the tone of your voice or body language how to talk with you. There is technology being developed to measure these things, but it is still in its infancy.

On the value of gamification: Gamification has different psychology, education, engineering, and human resource management applications. There are horrible ways to do gamification and video game training; I think most of us can remember playing video games in school or at work that were clearly designed with no budget, and not to be fun, but to get a point across or fulfill a checklist. I think many CEOs and other leaders have experienced that side of gamification, and often come to people like me with skepticism. But I would challenge everyone in those echelons to rethink that paradigm; there is a place for games in learning.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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