U.S. Agency Funds Joint Medical Simulation Project
Gaming Researchers to Develop Tools to Improve Communications

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has awarded nearly $1 million to researchers at UT Dallas, UT Arlington’s College of Nursing and Baylor Health Care System to study how physicians and nurses can improve their communication skills by participating in engaging, video game-like simulations.

Dr. Marjorie Zielke

Dr. Marjorie Zielke

Dr. Marjorie Zielke, assistant professor of arts and technology and associate director of research for the Institute for Interactive Arts and Engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas will construct a prototype game for this purpose. A pioneer in serious gaming, Zielke has already completed award-winning gaming projects to provide cultural training for U.S. soldiers serving in the Middle East and to educate nurses caring for pediatric respiratory patients.

The project is a collaboration among the three organizations aimed at increasing patient safety by providing a safe, virtual environment for physicians and nurses to learn to communicate effectively and efficiently through role-playing. Health care providers will experience real-world situations and react in the virtual setting, similar to advanced computer games. They can then build more effective interpersonal communication skills by receiving feedback and putting what they’ve learned into practice.

NNP Webpage

Because the nurse training program was online, students could access it anywhere.

Numerous studies have shown that communication problems in health care sometimes lead to serious, even deadly, medical mistakes, researchers said. The Joint Commission, the national organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations, has identified communication among caregivers as a key National Patient Safety Goal. 

The $969,604 award is a three-year grant. Beth Mancini, associate dean of UT Arlington’s College of Nursing and principal investigator for the study, who was recently elected president of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, will coordinate the project. She will provide health care expertise along with Yan Xiao, director of Patient Safety Research at Baylor and a frequently published researcher in the areas of patient safety and health care communication.

“The flexibility of serious games to help professionals learn in an engaging environment under their own timeframe makes this format especially useful to health care organizations,” Zielke said. “The subject of effective communications practices among professionals is perfectly suited for the type of behaviorally focused games we are interested in at UT Dallas. We will be able to apply much of our research on virtual humans and synthetic societies to this initiative.”

Initially, the new game will focus on surgeons and nurses caring for post-operative patients. The researchers plan to recruit 120 nurses and 25 physicians on the Baylor medical staff to take part.

Dr. Marjorie  Zielke's work has included construction of a virtual neonatal intensive care unit to train nurses.


On-screen lessons are designed to prepare medical practitioners for challenges they will encounter in the real world.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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