A Video Game Designed to Help Doctors to Recognize Drug Abuse

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the doctors are training themselves with technology to better recognize the signs of addiction.

A video game has been designed based on the research of Dr. Michael M. Fleming of Northwestern University Feingberg School of Medicine that utilizes the same technology used by to train FBI agents in interrogation tactics: a combination of self-disclosure (a family history of drug-abuse, say) and non-verbal cues (fidgeting, nervous finger drumming, broken eye-contact, etc.).

Still in its final stage of testing, the game uses an actors voice to simulate a hypothetical conversation with a patient seeking, for example, pain relievers. The program generates responses based on the doctor's questions, and the doctor must identify indicators of possible addiction or abuse, based on the simulated patient appearing on the screen before them. The dialog used in this simulated dialogs comes directly from Dr. Fleming's research, for which he spoke with about 1,000 opioid users.

Primary care and family doctors, who often feel ill-prepared to make judgment calls of this nature, are the intended market for the Web-based interactive video game.

The game's software was developed by Dale E. Olsen, a former professor of engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He is the founder and president of Simmersion, a company that has created simulation training programs for the F.B.I. The game's development was financed by a $1 million grant from the Small Business Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Olsen, who has a Ph.D. in statistics, said the game would cost users about $50 an hour. It is designed to be used for 10 sessions of 15 to 20 minutes each. He said customers would most likely include medical schools, as well as private and government health care providers.

The game is soon to be made available online for free to medical schools and health care providers, reports the New York Times. Not only will this new technology help patients receive the best need-based care from their doctors, but it will help doctors to better interact and engage with their patients, an oft over-looked side of the relationship. [NYT - Image via Trif/Shutterstock]