11 Aug Doctor using new media to break down barriers
Madison, Wis. – As any gaming guru will tell you, using technology to foster relationship building is hardly a new idea. For the medical profession, however, it might represent a revolution.
Fred Kron probably has never been identified as a revolutionary, but he might be in the process of becoming one.
Kron, a physician with ties to the entertainment industry, has started a software development company, Medical Cyberworlds, that might have found a new way to apply new-media technologies to traditional medical education.
Kron’s aim is to improve relations between two groups that are sometimes at odds – doctors and patients.
“You work in medicine long enough, you see doctors burn out in frustration, and you see people get hurt, and you wonder what you can do about it,” he said.
What he’s doing is designing a new training platform that he hopes will transform the doctor-patient relationship. He said the best elements of interactive training, entertainment, and experiential technology will be used to foster those “relationship negotiations.”
Kron, a cancer survivor, has been a practicing family medicine physician, and he has more than 50 produced television, interactive media, and web-writing credits to his name. He has been a multimedia writer for entertainment giants like Universal Studios, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and Disney Studios, and his television credits include Star Trek, The Next Generation. His work also has appeared on new-media platforms such as CD ROMs, where his award-winning titles include Freddi Fish and Spy Fox.
But Kron isn’t all fun and games. He has more than a passing interest in physician-patient communication. As a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he also has a scholarly interest in the subject.
“There are attempts in the medical curriculum to deal with doctor-patient interaction, but they generally are not effective,” he said. “There are a lot of noble efforts out there, but they haven’t had the affect we want, so it becomes, `how do you do that? How do we change medical culture?'”
Kron believes his blend of experiences gives him a unique perspective on the deficiencies in healthcare education, and the ability to address it by blending new media with medicine.
A spin-off of UW-Madison, Medical Cyberworlds will use interactive technology to bring about first-person, collaborative experiences for medical learning. At the moment, however, the automated techniques that could be used to transfer information to learners and to patients exist only in a crazy-quilt way in electronic gaming, entertainment, and information technology.
Kron wants to use an experiential learning platform, where students can learn the communication and other patient-centered skills that, in his view, are the most important thing they need to master.
“In the synthetic world, that’s a massively multi-user, virtual, 3-dimensional space,” he explained, “and you create a professional space for people to learn in.”
The company has a prominent team of designers that is ready to build out a proof-of-concept over the next nine months, and it is attempting, with the assistance of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, to secure funding for it through the National Institutes of Health. Their concept was well-received during Kron’s recent visit to Washington D.C. for the 2006 Capitol Hill Modeling and Simulation Exhibition.
The design team features a Who’s Who of computer game veterans such as Noah Falstein, president of The Inspiracy, who has worked with George Lucas at LucasArts and Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks Interactive; Ron Gilbert, a producer at LucasArts who co-founded Humongous Entertainment and Cave Dog Entertainment; and Carolyn Handler Miller, author of Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment.
The team also includes Doug Maynard, professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Sociology of UW-Madison; Larry Landweber, a John P. Morgridge Professor in UW-Madison’s Computer Sciences Department who, unlike Al Gore, “actually did help invent the Internet,” Kron joked; and Mike Gleicher, also a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Computer Sciences, who Kron said is poised to revolutionize the use of avatars, those customized images so prevalent in virtual communities.
Kron believes once the technology is seen and experienced and understood, medical schools will be interested in deploying it. Some have expressed interest in using UW-Madison as a “test bed” where the technology could prove itself, but a fully built project will be three years in the making.
Kron characterized the current “drill-and-kill approach,” where he said students are lectured to death, as “extremely retro” and not much different than two or three generations ago. In contrast, this generation of medical students, who Kron called “net generation learners,” is accustomed to the multi-user environment and interactivity that are features of Medical Cyberworlds’ emerging product.
In addition, he said students are not taught about “humanness,” which he defined as the ability of physicians to talk to, relate to, and understand patients so that they can motivate them to adopt healthy behaviors.
“The problem is that the current approach isn’t meaningful to medical students because they don’t have the experience to understand why these skills and attitudes are so important,” Kron said. “Consequently, it’s viewed as onerous by the students, and they dismiss it.”
One of the television programs Kron has written for is Quantum Leap, which is hopefully not what it will take for doctors to effectively communicate with patients. It is Kron’s sincere hope that the product his design team is developing can quickly bridge the gap.
“About 20 percent of doctors have developed a reflective practice,” he said, “reflective in whether their behavior measures up to their ambitions. Any effort that changes that percentage even a little bit could have a major impact in economic and, most importantly, in human terms.”
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