How Medtronic uses iPad games to train surgeons

By Jonah Comstock
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Medtronic CatalystNew surgeries, tools, and techniques are developed often, and medical device companies say it can be tricky to get surgeons to adopt them sometimes. After all, there are no unimportant patients, and no one wants to be their surgeon's first attempt at a new procedure.

Part of Minneapolis-based Medtronic's sales team's job is to encourage surgeons who have tried and true procedures to get trained on new procedures. And they've found that iPads -- and a specially developed gamified simulator -- are an effective way to do that.

"Before these types of interactive training simulations, a surgeon didn't have a reason to learn better ways to do a spine surgery if he's in a comfort zone," Leif Goranson, a training and education specialist at Medtronic, said in a presentation at the Games For Health conference in Boston this week. "If he feels like there's a new and better way, he might try that or he might at least try to get educated on that."

Medtronic has a suite of software programs that simulate different spinal surgeries. Surgeons use the iPad's touch interface to manipulate surgical tools and see the effect on the spine. The simulation can show a cutaway, allowing the surgeon to see more of the spine than they would in the real procedure. It also supports dual-touch inputs when relevant.

"A surgeon can't go through this and then call you up and say 'Hey, I can do your spine surgery now.' But what he can do is get over the initial learning curve. The surgeon is really trying to figure out what options they have, what's in their bag of clubs to be able pull out for that specific case. And if they understand these procedures they can do that better."

After practicing on the app as an introductory tool, surgeons will still go through standard training procedures in a cadaver lab or observing another trained surgeon, Goranson said.

The gamified elements of the software include a limited story element and a scoring system, based on how optimally the surgery was performed. The company initially developed the software for the Nintendo Wii, but switched to iPads for their widespread availability among surgeons. The iPad model was more scalable, Goranson said.

Medtronic began using these tools about a year ago and just released some efficacy data. The company found that 40 percent of sales reps found that the iPad simulations helped them schedule a case, and another 40 percent found it helped them sign a surgeon up for another educational activity.

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