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Researchers at California’s Stanford School of Medicine have created an online game to help physicians learn how to treat sepsis, a blood-based infection that affects roughly 750,000 people a year in the United States, costs the nation an estimated $17 billion and kills as many as half of those affected.
Called Septris ¬– after the popular video game Tetris – the game can be played on a desktop PC (though not through Internet Explorer) or as an HTML5 app on an iPad, iPhone or Android device. The game’s developers say it provides a practical approach to early sepsis identification and application of evidence-based management through Stanford’s sepsis guidelines.
They cautioned that the game – which challenges players to save the life of a patient with sepsis or see that patient die – should be treated as an educational tool and not take the place of clinical decision-making at the point of care.
While some might express concern at creating a game out of a serious medical condition, physicians who have played the game say that’s just what the medical community needs to promote learning.
“This is another mode of learning,” said Eric Gluck, MD, who specializes in critical care medicine, internal medicine and pulmonary disease at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital and played the game. “The idea of a game model, where a physician gets to solve problems and then gets immediate feedback … is good. So much of medical learning is tedious.”
Sean-Xavier Neath, an emergency room physician at University of California at San Diego Medical Center, said he “really enjoyed” the game, and that it kept him on edge of his seat. But he prefers to call a tool, and said it “has a lot of real-life validity.”
The elements of sepsis are very well encompassed in the game, including tests and drug therapy, he said. “Everything has to be kept in line for patients on the screen, based on your actions,” he said.
As an emergency room physician, Neath said it’s common to treat 25 patients at once, but many doctors aren’t taught to co-process patients. In the game, a player has to move relatively quickly back and forth between patients. “It is a useful tool for learning sepsis didatics,” he said.
“It was a hell of a lot of fun to play,”’ said Gluck, who points out the game appeals to everyone’s competitive instincts and offers some relief from what is often a stressful environment. He said the content “is right on target,” but the timing is compressed and a bit unrealistic. He also pointed out the game can only be played once.
Gluck feels games like this can be used to help physicians learn.
“This isn’t a simulation – we have simulation labs,” he pointed out. “This is another mode of learning. These are important issues that we need to get across to physicians, and there are many ways of doing this. (Septris) is an adjunct, but a fun adjunct.”
The game is designed for hospital-based medical and surgical, intensive care and emergency department physicians and nurses, though it’s available online to anyone interested in playing it, according to officials at Stanford. Physicians and those who meet certain specifications can obtain continuing medical education credit by playing the game.
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