Teamwork + #SXSW + #Minecraft + #Healthcare = Sum Greater Than Parts

There is a call in healthcare for all stakeholders to move toward a culture where team-based care is the norm. Where patients are welcomed into the care team as equal partners, moving away from the traditional, hierarchical approach. To make this shift, new skills will need to be embraced by those accustomed to old ways of delivering care. Many of the younger learners, in medicine and elsewhere, are great resources to turn to as role models for these team-based skills, as their play environments have proven to be wonderful training grounds for the same. For example, teamwork is thriving in video gaming environments — environments that may seem an unconventional place for medical training, but are proving to hold promise for more than just acquisition of surgical skills.

It was this knowledge I carried while attending SXSW in Austin, TX two weeks ago, during which I had the pleasure of sitting in on the Mindful Minecraft session in the Gaming and Interactive track. For those who aren’t familiar, the video game, Minecraft, has sold over 20 million copies across all gaming platforms (PC, Xbox, iOS, mobile), and is played by both kids and adults, alone or in a multiplayer environment. Servers across the country house multiplayer Minecraft sessions, where players work together to build worlds limited only by their imaginations. My own Minecraft knowledge is nascent, and I hope to convince my niece or nephew to slow down when they play and explain it further. Until then, I’m left to appreciate the artistry and the opportunity this gaming environment offers young and old. Following is a video shared by the #SXSW Mindful Minecraft presenter, Mike Langlois, a social worker who uses the video game as a tool to better understand his young patients, and redefine the way gaming addiction is perceived and approached.

Langlois also shared a number of interesting facts about both the single-player and multiplayer Minecraft environments that could be directly applicable to our healthcare learning environments. Mindfulness and teamwork were the two components of this game mentioned that really hit home for me. If you watched the video above, and understand just the basics about the game, the creation of such a work of art by a team of individuals located around the world is amazing in and of itself, and speaks to the coordination and teamwork developed in order to be successful. Langlois reported on additional findings from these gaming environments which could also show promise for learning emotional intelligence not taught through traditional healthcare curriculum, such as:

  1. Mindfulness — The game requires intentional, focused attention and keeps players in the moment. By taking a non-judgmental approach to the game, players learn to experience “what is”.
  2. Bullies in a the multiplayer gaming environments are soon marginalized. According to research on bullying, video game environments are ahead of schools in how bullies are managed.
  3. Kids eventually work out issues that arise on their own, before their Minecraft-playing parents have to intervene.
  4. Mode of play (i.e. single-player, multiplayer, creative, survival) changes the way players interact with, and within the game, allowing them to practice different social skills accordingly.
  5. Through different modes of play, autistic learners may be able to learn empathy.

Research has shown that surgeons who play video games were 27% faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37% fewer errors than those who did not play video games. Additional studies have shown that scientific reasoning is improved through certain video game environments. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to think that care providers who practice mindfulness and team-based play in a video gaming environment might have better outcomes related to both? This is a study I would like to see funded!

Students As Superheroes of Healthcare

Last week’s class at the Telluride Student Summer Camp proved to be very prolific, sharing their experience through metaphor and analogies found in everyday life to bring home the educational concepts shared during the week. Eva Luo, University of Michigan-Class of 2013, shared an excellent post–Health Care Assemble!–on the Transparent Health blog using the latest blockbuster movie, The Avengers, as an analogy for teamwork in healthcare. She writes:

As a fan of superhero movies, our deep confusion about how doctors and nurses work together to safely take care of patients reminded me of the movie, The Avengers. In the first half of the movie, a rag tag team of super heroes is brought together with the mission to save the world from alien domination. Each hero has his or her own superhuman talents (intelligence, strength, lightning generating hammer, etc.), not to mention movie franchise. However, the villain’s first attack quickly demonstrates that even superheroes are not effective alone and are at risk of causing unintentional harm…

The transformation in the second half of the movie was remarkable. Captain America rose to the challenge of leading the team. Each of the members communicated effectively removing any ambiguity about each member’s role. Most importantly, the superheroes played to each other’s strengths and supported each other. If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t believe any human lives were lost despite impressive damage to much of Midtown. Is similar effective teamwork possible in health care? I think so. But, we need to invest in building teams while we are still in school.

As an educator, Eva’s message is a reflection of how we are failing to properly prepare health science students and resident physicians to successfully address the complex needs of a team-based, patient-centered healthcare system. Patient care is now a team sport, not an individual sport as in years past.  Health science curricula needs to be changed so students and resident physicians understand interprofessional roles, train in teams, and fully appreciate the powerful role patients can play when included on that care team. All too often, we continue to throw traditional curricular “roadblocks” into their educational schedules, those which only superheroes could overcome at times. Yet the young warriors attending this year’s summer camp remain eager to learn not only the science, but also the team-based, patient-centered, systems approach to making healthcare delivery safer.

The development of cohesive, multidisciplinary teams that include the patient’s voice can be instrumental in making care safer. Training around this important theme needs to be incorporated into all health science school curricula…not just at the few sites that have started moving towards this educational model. One nice example of interprofessional training is the work being done by Gwen Sherwood (a Telluride Patient Safety Summer Camp faculty member) and others, at the University of North Carolina. For more information go to: