‘Medical Games for Doctors’ Helping Clinicians Fine-Tune Their Craft

Mayo Clinic developed a Virtual Reality lab to teach real-world medical procedures and let doctors learn where unique structures are situated before performing a procedure.

On the list of ways medical professionals can learn the art of surgery, video games and virtual reality may not immediately come to mind. But as CNBC's "On the Money" reported last month, the times they are a changin'.

Video game makers like Level Ex are developing video games and virtual reality tools with the sole purpose of teaching medical procedures to medical professionals. "They're related to hand-eye coordination and how you maneuver in a patient scenario, in a surgical scenario," Level Ex founder Sam Glassenberg tells CNBC of his graphics-rich Airway Ex, Gastro Ex, Pulm Ex, and Cardio Ex "medical games for doctors." These games guide players through everything from "intubating a patient to removing a cancerous polyp" while allowing them to earn medical education credits along the way.

But are virtual reality "medical games for doctors" truly realistic enough to teach real-world medical procedures? Paul Friedman, M.D., a real-life cardiologist and chair of Mayo Clinic's Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in Rochester, appeared on "On the Money" to offer his thoughts on that very question. "Any human activity — riding a bicycle, playing a piano — takes practice," he tells CNBC. "The more you can practice without putting people at risk, the better."

Dr. Friedman says that's why Mayo Clinic has developed its own Virtual Reality Lab. "Let's say somebody has slightly atypical anatomy. Imagine being able to walk into that heart, look at the heart, see that person's specific anatomy. We can do that now," Dr. Friedman tells CNBC. "So before you do the procedure, you can have a sense of where their unique valves or appendages or other structures are situated."

Cardiac electrophysiologist Suraj Kapa, M.D., tells us Mayo's virtual reality lab was developed over 18 months and has been fully in use for the last nine months. But the technology isn't just for cardiologists. "Virtual reality and augmented reality tools are nothing new to Mayo Clinic," Dr. Kapa tells us. "People have worked with them before in Neurosurgery and other surgical fields, as well as Radiology.

The ultimate goal? To make the technology available "for broader clinical use by any care provider." Even providers not on a Mayo Clinic campus. "Say a doctor at a faraway hospital is doing a procedure and it's not one they've done before," Dr. Friedman tells CNBC. "They get into a situation where they need help. Imagine that we put on (virtual reality) glasses, they wear glasses, and now we're in the room" with them.

Though Dr. Friedman notes that kind of global virtual reach is still "in the research and development phase" for Mayo Clinic clinicians, it's very much where he, Dr. Kapa, and others would like to ultimately take Mayo's virtual reality laboratory. "The hope is we can share expertise through the use of these tools."

You can watch Dr. Friedman's full CNBC interview here. Then bring us back to reality by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.