Health Games, Simulations, and Technology: Wave of the Future for Learning

Shawn Richards, BS
ISDH Respiratory Epidemiologist

The majority of individuals entering today’s workforce have grown up playing computer games and using a variety of communications devices.  There is a revolution under way, using gaming practice in medicine with virtual environments, virtual reality, and constructive environments such as disaster response and triage.  As the shortage of public health, emergency responders, physicians, and nurses increases within the next decade, the demand for simulation training in virtual environments will also increase.  Simulation training provides the means to: 1) more expediently and effectively educate America’s future health care workforce and 2) improve patient safety and care.

Representatives from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) exhibited the Indiana Pandemic Influenza Simulation on May 7-9, 2008, at the Games for Health Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. During this 3-day event, more than 350 attendees participated in over 60 sessions, representing a wide range of health care activities provided by an international array of 75 speakers. Founded in 2004, the Games for Health project supports the community, knowledge, and business development efforts to use cutting-edge games and game technologies to improve health and health care. The Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the lead conference sponsor and a major supporter of the Games for Health project.

The ISDH recently launched a pandemic influenza simulation course that provides learners the opportunity to expand concepts of public health planning and preparedness critical to protecting public health during an influenza pandemic. The Indiana Pandemic Influenza Simulation is a creative continuing education opportunity included in the Indiana Learning Management System (LMS) to expand concepts of public health planning and preparedness.  

The simulation allows individuals to practically apply decision-making skills for specific responsibilities and roles during an influenza pandemic.  Additionally, learners who are not public health professionals experience a glimpse of public health and may possibly consider a career in that profession.  In addition, the simulation helps improve response skills needed to more effectively respond during a full-scale exercise, drill, or actual public health emergency. This Web-based simulation allows users to select from 10 functional roles:  public health professional, public information officer, mental health professional, emergency management agency staff, medical/hospital preparedness staff, point of distribution, mental health, screener, security, and supervisory staff.  The simulation drill also includes three mock scenarios that allow individuals to use their knowledge and decisions within their roles during a simulated influenza pandemic.

The goals of exhibiting the simulation training were to promote the use of the simulation and the LMS in other states and internationally and to demonstrate a cost-effective, online accessible training tool.

Over 70 conference participants visited the ISDH booth; 35 of them received a personalized, intensive tour through the simulation.  Affiliations of those who viewed the simulation training included the New England Journal of Medicine, Princeton University, Information in Place, Serious Games Blog, SimQuest, Federation of American Scientists, PIP Vyro Games, and University of Maryland.  Although most of the simulation booth visitors included contacts from American companies, representatives from England, Ireland, and Brazil also viewed the simulation. 

Highlights of the conference included:

1.      The importance of bridging game developers, scientists, and research regarding communication and funding; maintaining, revising, and expanding current simulation tools.

2.      The shortage of health care providers within the next decade will necessitate simulation training in virtual environments to expediently prepare future providers and improve patient safety and care.

3.      Terminology in the gaming community is extensive and requires a clear understanding to ensure effective communication with funding representatives and those seeking to use gaming technology.

4.      There are no clear measures, or standards, to measure games for effectiveness, standard platforms for consistency, and very limited collaboration.