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Why you should want your surgeon to play video games

At the start of the procedure, the first thing Dr. Komal Bajaj has to get past is a thick band of nose hairs.

She gently maneuvers the endoscope through the nasal passage, trying to open up the patient’s airway. A slight blunder with her handling causes a blob of mucus to stick to the side of the camera attached to the endoscope, obstructing her vision.

The patient’s heartbeat picks up, the breathing intensifies. Bajaj accidentally touches the vocal chords with the endoscope, which causes the patient to cough – and it’s game over.

But luckily, it really was just a game: the entire procedure took place on a virtual reality app called Airway Ex, which gamifies surgery to help train medical professionals.

Bajaj is a reproductive geneticist and the Clinical Director at the NYC Health and Hospital Simulation Center. She is tasked with thinking of new ways to use technology to train more than 40,000 medical professionals in New York City.

Airway Ex is one of those technologies and it lets medical professionals practice minimally invasive surgeries on a virtual patient’s airway, all from their smartphones or tablets. The app uses video game technology to teach surgeons how to expertly handle an endoscope to keep a patient’s airway clear, giving them realistic scenarios like dealing with tonsillitis and inflammation. Changes in tissue behavior, breathing fluctuations, bleeding, and realistic fluids and secretions appear as the game progresses.

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