COVID-19 in the ER? Level Ex uses J&J grant to simulate infections in medical education video games

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson & Johnson and Level Ex are helping support front-line healthcare workers with—wait for it—video games. Specifically, COVID-19 levels added to existing medical education video games.

Armed with an educational grant from the Johnson & Johnson Institute aimed at addressing COVID-19 needs, medical education video game maker Level Ex built virus-specific levels for its Airway Ex, Pulm Ex and, most recently, Cardio Ex mobile games.

The new levels show pulmonologists, emergency medicine physicians, anesthesiologists and other healthcare professionals how to deal with the new challenges of COVID-19.

“Since March, we've just been scrambling out diagnostic treatment decision-making content in those games and distributing it to our doctors, and now also making it available at our Remote Play platform,” Level Ex Founder and CEO Sam Glassenberg said.

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Similar to pilots training in the immersive environment of a flight simulator, healthcare providers find themselves in a digital emergency room, facing patients who may or may not be infected with COVID-19. They must first determine whether the patient has the virus and, if they do, decide how to safely deal with them to minimize any spread. 

The games are designed to raise adrenaline and stress, just as if the player were in a real ER, to mimic what the brain goes through in a tough real-life situation so any lessons learned are burned into memory, Glassenberg said.

“We trigger a similar emotional response by creating an interactive experience that will train without needing the live patient involved. So when you come in on patient one, it's as if you're on patient 100,” he said.

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While anyone can download the free app, Level Ex's focus is on medical professionals. Users who provide their NPI numbers can earn CME credits, although not on the COVID-19 levels.

The games are resonating—700,000 medical professionals are playing the regular games and tens of thousands of them are using the new COVID-19 levels. The results are exactly what the company and its sponsors, including the Translational Research Institute for Space Health along with J&J, were hoping would happen. Doctors are writing testimonials about the benefits of playing as well as offering constructive suggestions and information. Level Ex consistently updates the games to match the latest medical guidelines.

“The feedback from doctors and other medical professionals in the ER has been just overwhelmingly positive, cases of (them saying), 'I was so happy that they saw this in a game before they encountered it in real life,'” Glassenberg said.