Stanford-designed game teaches surgical decision-making

A new Web-based game could go a long way toward plugging what JAMES LAU, clinical associate professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, calls a gaping hole in surgical education.

sicko-092313The game, SICKO, is designed to help surgeons and surgical trainees practice making choices about surgery without involving actual patients. Lau hopes that by helping surgery teachers better evaluate their trainees’ skills, the game will enable them to do a better job of teaching.

SICKO, an acronym for Surgical Improvement of Clinical Knowledge Ops, is Lau’s brainchild. He was inspired after playing Septris, a Web-based educational game about diagnosing and treating sepsis — infection-related systemic inflammation. He quickly recognized that its technology platform might serve as a tool to help surgery trainees, too.

Dr. Sicko, whose expressions range from smiling to red-in-the-face furious, comments on players' decisions and awards or subtracts points based on them. -
Dr. Sicko, whose expressions range from smiling to red-in-the-face furious, comments on players’ decisions and awards or subtracts points based on them.

Lau won a grant this year from the same body that funded the development of Septris, the Stanford Center for Continuing Medical Education, and, with the assistance of a team that included a Stanford surgical resident, a board-certified surgeon and the School of Medicine’s Educational Technology group, built SICKO.

“Protocols can be taught,” said Lau, who also directs the medical school’s core clerkship in surgery and the Stanford ACS Education Institute/Goodman Simulation Center. “But the actualization of these scripts usually is not reinforced until actual clinical application. The gap between didactic learning and clinical application may affect the outcomes of the surgical diseases encountered. Yet sound clinical judgment is absolutely essential to ensure the highest standards of patient safety and care.”

SARA WYKES, Stanford Hospital & Clinics