Level Ex, Inc.'s Top Derm is changing the way dermatologists learn about skin conditions—all through a cell phone screen.
Shraddha Desai, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist who practices at Duly Health and Care in Naperville, Illinois. Desai is also a clinical instructor for the Rush University dermatology residency program cosmetic clinic and an adjunct professor at Loyola University. She is also a dermatology consultant for Level Ex, Inc., the world's leading medical video game studio and producer of dermatology game Top Derm.
Dermatology Times® recently spoke with Desai to discuss the process of assisting with the creation of Top Derm and the clinical impacts of games like Top Derm in advancing the dermatology field.
Shraddha Desai, MD, FAAD: I'm Shraddha Desai. I'm a dermatologist who practices at Duly Health and Care in Naperville. Most of my practice is cosmetic with a little bit of surgical derm, and then a little bit of gen[eral] derm as well. I also am a clinical instructor at Rush University for their cosmetic clinic in their derm residency program, as well as an adjunct professor at Loyola University, doing the same thing for their dermatology program. Outside of this, with Level Ex, what I do is I'm a consultant, obviously, purely for dermatology. I got to kind of start off before Top Derm launched, which was kind of cool in that I that got to see them develop these digital renders of skin conditions and just see it evolve.
Dermatology Times: What goes into making a realistic medical video game like Top Derm?
Desai: It was actually really cool. I don't have a background in graphic arts or anything, but my brother is an animator, so I'm used to seeing him make cartoonish characters and things like that, where I was like, 'How are they going to do this with skin?' And what they would do is they would have about 20 different renders, and I would come in, sometimes they would send them to me, but I kind of enjoyed seeing them do the process at work. And tell me: 'Is this color right? Is this texture right? What do you think of this? What can we do better?' And it's funny how I would be nitpicky and say, 'Okay, well, dermatomyositis is a little bit more of like a baby pink, not quite a bright red, pink,' and they would take what you said, and as obscure as it was, they would continue to evolve it until it matched to what, to my eye, would be more respective of that condition.
Dermatology Times: As a dermatologist, what is the significance of a game like Top Derm?
Desai: I think the significance is multifold. Number one, I think we're all looking for a way to increase our knowledge base, get CME credits, and after COVID, a lot of things went virtual. You're not going to meetings as much, and we've learned to find different ways to do that. And what's great about an app-based learning program is that you have your phone with you all the time, so any chance you have, a few minutes here, a few minutes there, you can go on and do some quick learning, as well get your CME credit for it. And then I'm sure a lot of awareness about racial disparities in medicine in general, and I think as dermatologist or just physicians, it's kind of really up to us to fill that gap. And I think by having a game such as this, you really do that, because sadly, in residency, depending on if you have exposure to these different racial ethnicities, and I did. I was lucky. Some people don't. If you're practicing where there's mostly a Caucasian population, that's what you're going to see. And unfortunately, a lot of our atlases are limited in the number of skin of color patients that they portray. So by having an app-based device that we can actually look at those renders that look very, very similar to what we'd see in real life, you get that knowledge base, you broaden your knowledge base, and then when you have someone with skin of color that comes in, you're better able to treat their skin, and they actually feel confident in you, and comfortable with you, as their physician.
Dermatology Times: What are the benefits of learning through medical video games?
Desai: Medical video games have been really great, because number one, we all love video games—we've played them at some point in our lives. But there's a large body of research that's showing how people learn better with video games; it's interactive, you're not being told something, you're actually being tested on that knowledge, real time and building on those skills as you play the game. And it's been shown that with this type of involvement, you tend to retain more, and different parts of your brain are actually being used for that retention.
Dermatology Times: How do medical video games advance awareness and help patients in the long-run?
Desai: What's also amazing about Top Derm is that they're continuing to evolve their program, so it's not just like, 'Here it is.' There's always new content. So as new technologies, new medications, come about, if we unfortunately don't have all this time to talk to our rep[resentative] about the new medication, or we're not as good about keeping up with our journals, this is a very quick and easy way to access that information so that we're better prepared for our patients, and the patients can at least have that confidence that 'Yes, my doctor knows what they're doing.'
Dermatology Times: What role do medical video games play in advancing the future of dermatology?
Desai: Being a cosmetic dermatologist, and I know not specifically derm, but also for other specialties, we tend to do a lot of technical things. And I'm going to use my own example: When I teach the residents, it's always, 'Well, Dr. Desai, how deep do I put this needle in? Am I in the right space? How do I know I'm in the right plane?' And what Level Ex has really done with some of their other games outside of derm, is had these interactive ways of having a 3D image where you can actually see the depth, or let's do a practice, tracheostomy, or you put something in: 'Let's put a tube in.' And I feel like that is really a great way that's not exactly hands on, but a good way that you can practice that and get a good feel for it, no matter what specialty you're in.
[Transcript edited for clarity]