October 15, 2019By Lance Baily

Play to Train: Seriously Fun Medical Board Games for Clinical Learning

Medical board games, critical thinking games for nursing students, and healthcare board games in general offer unique learning opportunities for educational, training, and patient safety programs utilizing healthcare simulation methodologies to improve outcomes. From the ER to disease infection control, and from medical terminology to neonatal resuscitation, here is a comprehensive list of some of the best board games for healthcare, including some key research highlights which demonstrate educational success with the playful medium!

Examples of Medical Board Games Research:

How board games can be used to improve safety: Games can be used in healthcare as a fun way to engage staff and patients, and deliver information to them more effectively. This article explores the increasing popularity of “serious” or educational games, and how one health region is using them as a part of its regional educational and improvement program. It explains how board games are raising staff awareness of pressure ulcer reduction, as part of a wider program to help eliminate avoidable new ulcers. Overall, the Midlands and East regional initiative has achieved a nearly 50% reduction in new grade 2, 3 and 4 pressure ulcers across the region. It is not possible to say how much of this is due to the use of board games, but staff feedback suggests serious games provide a fun and informative method of training and education, as a valuable addition to education and improvement programs.


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Board games offer unique teaching methods for military medical students: Students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) are learning the challenges of treating those in harm’s way through rolls of the dice. Educators in USU’s Military Contingency Medicine (MCM) program have developed several board games to teach students what to expect when they’re deployed, covering topics including managing logistics of medical supplies, supporting troops in the military health system, and even role playing the relations between opposing factions in foreign countries. “We develop games like this because it’s pretty evident these days that your standard day of teaching with a lecture in front of 200 people doesn’t really convey the information or get adequate retention from students. An interactive way of teaching is more ideal,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Tony Kim, assistant professor in the Department of Military and Emergency Medicine (MEM) at USU. “It takes a lot more effort to [create games], but the dividends are much better, because the students are more likely to retain the key points.”

Teaching Tools: Development and Use of an Educator-developed Community Assessment Board Game: Traditional teaching strategies typically include lecture, class discussion, and the use of overhead projector transparencies or PowerPoint slide shows. While these strategies can be effective in transferring knowledge, when used alone, these strategies can become boring to students. Including an alternate teaching strategy such as gaming can make learning fun. The use of games in nursing education is supported in the nursing literature as an effective teaching strategy. One of the nice things about using games as a teaching strategy is that games can easily be adapted. For example, the basic idea of the community assessment game could be easily adapted to use with students learning pathophysiology or physical assessment skills. The game board could be made in the form of a human body. The game board could reflect the outside of the body for physical assessment purposes or reflect the internal systems of the body for pathophysiology content. The question cards could have questions related to physical assessment or pathophysiology course content, and the data cards could have signs and symptoms, laboratory values, and patient interview data, with an ultimate goal of identifying patient problems, nursing diagnoses, and planning appropriate nursing interventions. There are countless possibilities for the use of games in nursing education. Games make learning fun for students and for teachers.

List of Leading Critical Thinking Board Games in Nursing, Medicine & Healthcare

Friday Night in the ER: Friday Night at the ER challenges teams of four to manage a busy hospital during a simulated 24-hour period that takes just one actual hour. This engaging learning experience can be used to develop essential organizational thinking skills and improve team performance. The Friday Night at the ER team-learning clinical simulation causes us to see the roles providers play in organizations as interrelated parts of a system – an essential perspective for high-performing teams and organizational learning. Yet, understanding and thinking about systems is not enough! It must be paired with actions and behaviors. The game aims to teach key actions and behaviors that enable people to apply systems thinking into practice.


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In each simulated hour of the game, patients arrive, transfer between departments and exit. Department managers complete tasks, manage resources, make decisions and document results. They are pressured by time limits, quality and cost measures and interactions with peers. The activity simulates the flow of people or goods through parts of an organization. It feels “frighteningly real,” as one CEO put it, yet people enjoy the experience. The gameplay is highly engaging and teams are motivated to perform well. Team dynamics at each table will vary, while the overall spirit in the room is lively. Group sessions may range from 4 to several hundred participants. Following the gameplay and scoring, a program leader guides participants through an interactive debrief that includes huddles, exercises and rich discussion. A standard debrief and support materials, included with the game package, can be customized to meet distinct group needs.

Ponder the Socratic Way from LifeCareSim: This board game provides unpredictable, constantly evolving patient case scenarios that have problems that must be solved throughout the experience. The purpose of Ponder: The Socratic Way is to stimulate critical thinking. Students are provided with unpredictable patient scenarios that change constantly during play. The instructor helps facilitate play by encouraging questions throughout the game. Discussion after answering the questions and even adding questions by the instructor and/or students is encouraged for a richer experience when valuable “teaching moments” present themselves. Students will participate by answering questions and thinking through situations. The instructor may wish to allow students the option of using books, smart phones, or other resources to help answer the questions. Students should bring a penlight, stethoscope, and other physical assessment tools like those they would have in the clinical setting.

The curriculum builder is ideally played with up to four teams of three to five students each team, but can be played with individual students. Each team downloads a buzzer to utilize during play. The goal of the game is to collect the largest number of “Status Improved” cards AND the fewest “Suffered Setback” cards. A roll of the dice provides different diverse patients every time. A spinner dictates drawing question cards or rolling more dice as the game plays, constantly changing the scenarios. Teams think through situations solving problems based on the patient’s pathophysiology, pharmacology, labs, and changing scenarios as they compete for game cards, Students must apply all of the principles of the nursing process—assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation as they bounce ideas off of each other in a non-threatening environment. Instructors facilitate the curriculum builder and take advantage of Socratic “teaching moments” as they occur in the game as if they were on a unit. The real winner is solving problems and learning in a fun and non-threatening manner!

Canadian Simulation Educators Create RETAIN Board Game to Train Neonatal Resuscitation: The Retain Game originated from a vision to provide this training environment with a focus on neonatal resuscitation out of the University of Alberta Hospital & Royal Alexandra Hospital Edmonton. The RETAIN team designed the educational game platform “RETAIN” (Resuscitation TrAINing for Healthcare Professionals) to train healthcare professionals in neonatal resuscitation in a cost-friendly and accessible way. The RETAIN platform (RETAIN Labs Medical Inc., Edmonton, Canada) consists of a board game and a computer game, as tools that complement the physical simulation-based education to improve knowledge retention during neonatal resuscitation in the delivery room. The RETAIN board game is a table-top serious board game simulator to train interdisciplinary healthcare professionals’ knowledge, communication, and team work skills during neonatal resuscitation. The game consists of 50 evidence-based scenarios, which were transcribed from real-life delivery room resuscitations at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Edmonton, Canada.

The Sepsis Game: Developed in collaboration with the NHS Sepsis Trust and NHS England, The Sepsis Game brings staff together and improves their ability to recognize and manage sepsis. The game was designed to support clinical educational programs to improve knowledge and management of sepsis and so improve patient safety. The box contains everything you need to run a successful training session. Each game contains a pack of scenario cards designed to stimulate discussions that raise awareness and improve care delivery skills. The scenarios and questions vary in complexity which allows you to structure games that meet the needs of each group. Just pop it in your bag for team meetings, study days, workshops, lunch meetings and events.

The game is designed for between 2 and 12 players divided into two competing teams. It takes around 45 minutes to play and can be used in any care setting; all you need is a table and some chairs. The rules are very simple and the facilitator doesn’t need sepsis expertise. The game is very flexible and meets the needs of a modern organization. It is in effect a ‘pop-up workshop’ that can be used anywhere at any time. The game can be used as an informal activity in the workplace, or as part of more structured training and workshops. Team take turns to move their counters around the board by answering questions correctly. The first team to get to the end wins the game or if the time runs out whoever is closest to the end is the winner. The discussions that the teams have between themselves are what make the game effective. The game is essentially self-regulating and the facilitator can take a passive role in the game. There is even an online digital version of the game too!

Occam’s Razor: The Diagnostician’s DilemmaDesigners of ‘The Healing Blade,’ this team has recently released a new medical card game, Occam’s Razor. Created by two physicians to be both a game and a study aid, this is a must-have for health sciences students and professionals. Quick to play and easy to learn, the game draws on the classic principles of Occam’s razor and Hickam’s dictum to challenge your diagnostic ability. Play with a group, or take a break and play a game of solitaire.

There are four different ways to play: 1) Gin Rummy Occam: Collect the highest scoring hamd of matching symptoms. 2) Deduce the Disease: Be the first to deduce the hidden disease card. 3) Occam Solitaire: Match symptoms in order to clear all your face-down piles. 4) Spoons: Include family and friends in a fun, fast-paced game that requires no previous medical knowledge.

After the Disaster: Triage: After the Disaster: Triage is a solitaire game where you determine who will survive the aftermath of a terrible earthquake. As the disaster coordinator, manage your staff in admitting and healing patients, siphoning diesel for the generator, and keeping the hospital intact during aftershocks. But how will you handle the panicking and dying patients you leave outside?

Each turn begins with handling new issues for the hospital: Survivors who need help. Aftershocks that damage the hospital. A diesel source that could be scavenged. After managing the situation, you’ll balance patient survival with keeping the hospital running during the crisis using your remaining action points. Each turn ends with the generator consuming diesel and survivors left outside worsening or taking matters into their own hands. The game ends after the immediate crisis has passed and all patients have been healed or have passed on…or the hospital collapses.

Hospital Life Game: Designed in collaboration with NHS Scotland, Hospital Life helps players to realize that planning and communication are vital to maximize efficiency. Players take on job roles within a fictional ward simulated on the board. The board game is integrated with a video, which presents players with a series of tasks and challenges based on typical occurrences in a hospital. Using discussion and teamwork, players attempt to manage their virtual hospital, coping with patient arrivals and discharges, ward transfers, staff management and other unexpected situations. Bringing staff together can help everyone to understand how all members of the team can work together to create an efficient environment. It is also a useful tool for highlighting the importance of communication and showing newly qualified staff how a hospital operates. At the end of the game, players are encouraged to talk about and reflect upon the experience, helping them to understand their role in effective hospital management.

Quarantine Board Game: In Quarantine, players seek to build the biggest and most efficient hospital, while trying to keep ahead of the steady stream of incoming patients arriving at their doors. In this tense struggle for medical supremacy, players must infuse new life into their hospitals through the timely addition of special rooms and abilities. But beware the highly contagious patients! Infection can spread quickly, causing entire wards to be shut down under quarantine! In game terms Quarantine is a tile-laying game with each player having an entrance and lobby. More than fifty other tiles are available, with two each of 14 different “special room” tiles. Players acquire these tiles and others via a novel “Price-Drafting” mechanic. Players set a price for the tiles they want to draft, but other players get the chance to buy them first, so players need to price their services accurately in order to supply your hospital while not overpaying. With dozens of tiles available, no two hospitals will be set up the same way.

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