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Do Video Games Make You a Better Radiologist?

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

Let's face it. For some of us, Radiology and video games go together like other classic combinations such as peanut butter and jelly or bread and butter. In the Radiology profession, video games have enticed many of us since we have been able to play them. And, I think it has something to do with our love for technology. Even I enjoy playing an occasional video game on my kids' Nintendo console. But, do video games serve a role for the radiologist in training? What is some of the evidence that video games may help with brain function? Finally, do they enhance the practice of Radiology in a radiologist's career?

Video Games And Radiology Learning

So, what is the evidence that we can utilize video games for learning Radiology?

Medgame is a video about a game that was developed at a Spanish university to teach Radiology to physicians. At least from the video, it seems to be an enticing and a potential alternative way to learn the basics of Radiology. For those of us that love playing, I would imagine that a video game such as this would be a great way to learn new material and reinforce radiological concepts. If only I had something like this when I was a resident!

More indirectly supporting the average video game player, another article from 2013 in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry shows that you can alter the structure of your brain by playing video games. In fact, they claim several sites of increased gray matter thickness in those that played Super Mario 64. Moreover, they also espouse the potential for the increased gray matter to help out with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer's Disease, and schizophrenia. The increased gray matter translates to increased neural complexity and networks, likely related to increased learning.

Video Games And Brain Function

More than just learning itself, some of the evidence supports increased brain function in video game users. In one article from the Radiological Society of North America, there is interesting information about how video games improve brain function in patients with multiple sclerosis. It describes increased thalamic connectivity in patients that played a particular video game. In addition, another study showed that manual dexterity improved in more heavy video game users than young adults that did not play and those that played less often. Both of these articles provide some supportive evidence of the power of video games to enhance brain function.

Video Games Improving The Field Of Radiology

And then, other articles have shown that technologies originally created for video games also have been found useful in radiological applications. Thereby, these applications also have significantly improved patient care. One of these motion sensor technologies from an Xbox specifically reduces radiation dosages in X-rays by assessing motion and thickness. Even back in 2008, Microsoft programmers were creating 3D technologies for video games that subsequently were applied to Radiology.

Personally, I think that these video game technologies are merely the tip of the iceberg. With so much recent development of virtual reality for video game users and the amazing graphics technologies on current games, I believe the applications will become much more numerous. We will see many other applications from video games that improve patient care.

Are There Any Negatives To Video Games For Radiologists?

With any discussion of video games, we also have to discuss the downside. I don't know about you. But, when I really get into playing an addictive video game, it can interfere with other life activities. You want to know what is going to happen next, to the point where you can easily sit down for hours at a time, passing the time away, not realizing you have been playing for so long. So, the individual radiologist video gamer needs to carefully monitor the usage of their video game play. In this situation, it may not be so bad if the game provides a significant radiological education benefit, however.

And then, we also need to confirm that video games created to enhance Radiology performance do just that. Sometimes at the beginning, creators of products will tout the benefits of a technology without evidence to support whether or not it helps. So, we need to justify that these video games truly enhance performance with evidence before making claims that the technology improves Radiology and healthcare.

Video Games and the Radiologist

In this whirlwind tour through the world of video games and the potential applications to Radiology, I believe the preponderance of evidence supports that they will enhance our lives as radiologists. Some of the takeaways include that video games can enhance education, may improve brain function, and will continue to improve the practice of Radiology for years to come. These benefits come with limited downsides that I think we can overcome. The application of video games to our field is only limited by our imaginations and the willingness to adapt to the new technologies for the betterment of our field.

Barry Julius, MD, is a board-certified radiologist at St. Barnabas Medical Center. He is the developer of an educational website, He is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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