Researchers are in the final stages of testing a video game designed to help physicians identify the warning signs of substance abuse in patients and ask difficult questions that many doctors never learned to ask.
Struggling to discuss drug abuse
According to Michael Fleming at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, most medical students are not trained to discuss drug abuse with patients.
Moreover, Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Danielle McCarthy notes that addressing drug problems can conflict with physicians' desire to help patients. "You don't want people to be in pain, and you're put on the spot," she says, "I've had patients yell at me. I've never been hit, but once or twice I've felt physically threatened."
Video game simulates patient interactions
Based on technology used to train FBI agents in interrogation tactics, the Web-based video game aims to teach physicians to look for verbal and non-verbal warning signs of substance abuse. It is targeted at primary care physicians and family doctors. According to the New York Times, medical schools and providers will soon be able to access the game, which will cost about $50 per hour.
To train physicians, the game simulates doctor-patient interactions with individuals who may have developed a substance abuse problem.
It lets physicians choose from about 1,500 questions and responses—which are drawn from Fleming's interviews with more than 1,000 patients receiving opioids for pain—and encourage them to take a collaborative approach to drug abuse conversations.
McCarthy has tested the training system, which is broken down into 10 sessions lasting 15 to 20 minutes. She says it has helped her identify patients who are exaggerating or fabricating pain to obtain drugs because it suggested to new ways to respond to patients (Johnson, New York Times, 5/25).