As videogames have become mainstream and emerged from the dimly-lit arcade rooms of years past, gaming technology has found increasing application in medical training, pain management, rehab, and digital therapeutics.
On Justin Barad’s office desk in San Francisco sits an old floppy disk copy of Life and Death. It was a 1988 computer game that put players in the role of an abdominal surgeon tasked with diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions ranging from kidney stones to appendicitis.
The primitive pixel-based graphics are a far cry from the top tier videogames of today. But the disk acts as both a reminder of his previous career aspirations of being a game developer, as well as his current passion of merging the seemingly disparate fields of gaming and healthcare.
Barad himself found his own way into the medical field as an orthopedic surgeon and eventually as an entrepreneur and co-founder of his own startup. As CEO of Osso VR, Barad and his team (many from the videogame industry) have developed a virtual reality-based training tool for surgeons. The company has raised around $3 million in funding and works with top medical schools like Vanderbilt University, Harvard University, and UCLA.
Osso VR is part a new generation of companies that aim to apply the visually appealing and immersive qualities of the gaming industry into the very serious business of healthcare.
“If we want to change the perception of healthcare past something that’s old-fashioned and archaic, we should take the best technology in other fields and use it to push the limits of what’s possible in healthcare,” said Barad in a recent interview.
For example, the multimillion-dollar Auris Health Monarch surgical platform utilizes controllers that wouldn’t feel out of place in front of an Xbox or Playstation.
Medical videogame company Level Ex has built a mobile-based gaming platform meant to act as an engaging training tool for physicians. The Chicago company has developed educational gaming modules across different specialties like pulmonology, anesthesiology and cardiology.
Dr. Atman Shah, an interventional cardiologist at the University of Chicago, served as technical advisor to Level Ex for the development of their cardiology application, which challenges players to perform procedures like securing dissociated stents and treating cardiac perforations.