Video games take cardiology training to the next level

istock doctor and nurse looking at a cell phone

Video games are a popular form of entertainment in the U.S. with more than 164 million adults playing them. Seventy-five percent of households have at least one gamer.

But in recent years, games have become more than just entertainment: They have entered the world of medicine. Over the last two years, University of Chicago Medicine cardiologist Atman P. Shah, MD, has been working as a physician adviser with a Chicago technology startup to create video games for doctors. The games allow physicians to assist virtual patients in an effort to improve clinical decision-making skills.

“This advanced technology and gaming offers great potential for cardiology," Shah said. "It is poised to fundamentally change how we teach physicians. Creating medical training opportunities that are more accessible and relevant to the modern world is just what the doctor ordered.”

Thanks to advances in virtual reality, video game designers have been able to mimic all kinds of compelling and life-like environments, from gastrointestinal tracts to the abdomen. These games, like the ones Shah helped develop, feature real-life surgical situations and offer users tools and devices that physicians would use in reality.

"That might seem like science fiction, but it’s not," he said. "The convergence of video games and medicine is creating new learning opportunities for physicians with apps that help doctors to practice difficult procedures via their mobile devices and even to earn continuing medical education credits while doing so."

Shah, co-director of the UChicago Medicine's cardiac catheterization laboratory, worked with the company Level Ex on their latest game titled, "Cardio Ex." This is the fourth specialty game in a collection that includes Airway Ex, Gastro Ex and Pulm Ex. Cardio Ex presents interventional cardiologists with virtual cases they may encounter in the catheterization lab. The app was publicly launched during the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in March 2019.

Shah doesn’t see the apps completely replacing direct patient care training but believes these educational tools will keep clinicians engaged and refreshed. The simulations can provide a challenging case in a risk-free environment which, for physicians, could be a welcome break from the stress of live clinical work.

"This learning-by-doing — a stimulating change from the 'see one, do one, teach one' model — aids recalibration, mindfulness, and renewed focus," Shah said. "They allow physicians to practice and perfect a technique through full immersion in challenging and collaborative cases. Trying out different methods, and learning from mistakes without harming patients will only increase personal satisfaction and confidence during live procedures."


Atman P. Shah, MD

Atman P. Shah, MD, is an interventional cardiologist who specializes in minimally invasive, catheter-based techniques. He cares for patients with complex structural heart disease, including congenital heart defects, and performs catheter-based procedures to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Learn more about Dr. Shah