Medical Education, Startups

Chicago startup Level Ex brings video games to the world of medicine

The company creates video games for doctors that allow them to assist virtual patients in an effort to improve their clinical decision-making skills.

Sam Glassenberg comes from a family of doctors, but he’s spent his career in a completely different world: the video game industry.

“This has basically made me the black sheep of the family,” he said in a phone interview last month.

He started out at LucasArts creating Star Wars games, then spent time at Microsoft. Glassenberg also served as CEO of FTX Games, which was acquired by PTEC in 2016. There, he worked on games for Hollywood movies like The Hunger Games and Mission: Impossible.

In 2012, Glassenberg’s father, an anesthesiologist, asked him to create a game for training his colleagues how to do a tricky procedure. So Glassenberg sat down for a few weekends, created a quick training game and uploaded it to the App Store.

Two years later, his father asked him how many people had downloaded the game. Turns out, the number was higher than anticipated: 100,000 doctors had been playing the game.

“Clearly there’s demand for this,” Glassenberg realized. “Clearly doctors want this sort of thing.”

So he put together a team of video game developers to officially found Level Ex in 2015. The company, which also has more than 150 physician advisors, creates video games for doctors that allow them to assist virtual patients in an effort to improve their clinical decision-making skills.

Based in Chicago, the startup has four offerings: Airway Ex (for anesthesiologists and airway specialists); Gastro Ex (for gastroenterologists); Pulm Ex (for pulmonologists); and Cardio Ex (for interventional cardiologists), which launched in March of this year.

Level Ex’s games are all interactive. In other words, the virtual patient will react to whatever the player decides to do. For instance, the player can grab a polyp and the patient will bleed. Additionally, the player can spray water, use certain medical devices, spray water, cauterize wounds and more.

All cases for the game are submitted by doctors, some of whom are on the advisory board and some of whom are currently practicing in the medical field.

The Chicago company’s games are available for free to download for iOS and Android. Physicians can also earn CME credits by playing. The main users are practicing doctors, but some residents and medical students play as well. “These games are not designed to teach you how to be a doctor,” Glassenberg said.

He added that users played a total of 3 million cases last year and that the average session length is seven to 10 minutes.

When it comes to a business model, Level Ex offers sponsorship opportunities. Its clients include companies like Merck, Baxter, Pfizer and Medtronic. These entities can pay to have their products included in specific games. For instance, one game lets users practice dosing Suprane, an anesthetic from Baxter.

Since its inception, the startup has also secured funding from investors like OSF Ventures4490 Ventures, JAZZ Venture Partners and Pritzker Group Venture Capital.

Photo: Level Ex

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly named the maker of Suprane, an anesthetic. The drug is made by Baxter