media relations

TEDMED Coverage – Medical Video Game Guru: Interview with Sam Glassenberg, Level Ex CEO

This article was originally posted on medical news site Medgadget


Sam Glassenberg has spent his career in the video game industry, and now is on a mission to bring the leading edge of video game technology into healthcare. Sam is the founder and CEO of Level Ex, an award winning company making professional video games for doctors. Before Level Ex, Sam was CEO of a leading independent game publisher in Hollywood, led the DirectX team at Microsoft, and has been pushing limits in the gaming industry. Sam has an M.S. in Computer Science and Graphics from Stanford University, and a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois. I met Sam at the recently concluded TEDMED 2018 and spoke with him about his company and the direction they are headed.

Tom Fowler, Medgadget: What is your favorite video game of all time? (excluding Level Ex games of course)

Sam Glassenberg: It’s a toss-up between Duke Nukem 3D (1996) and Half-Life 2 (2004). Both of these games introduced revolutionary graphics technologies, physics-based gameplay, storytelling techniques, and most importantly – raised the bar for interactable environments. The world of Duke Nukem really came to life – it felt as though you could interact with almost any element in the urban environment, which was unheard of in 1996. Half-Life 2 had breathtaking graphics and artwork for the time. Most importantly, its in-game physics were sophisticated enough to enable groundbreaking physics-based gameplay in the genre. It was the first-person-shooter to have complex puzzles that required you to manipulate objects in the scene the right way to achieve the goal – combining rigid objects, water, forces, and other physical elements. My favorite game in the last few years is Mushroom 11. It’s a physics puzzler that was actually designed by our Lead Game Designer at Level Ex before he joined us. I’m not the only one with that opinion – it won an Apple Design Award and Google Play Independent Game of the Year in 2017.


Medgadget: When did you first get interested in expanding your video gaming interests into healthcare?

Sam Glassenberg: The whole thing happened by accident in 2012.

I’ve enjoyed an exciting and impactful career in the video games industry animating Star Wars cutscenes at LucasArts/LucasFilm and managing teams at Microsoft and elsewhere.

I come from a long line of doctors – my grandfather, both my parents, uncles, and my wife. I was the black sheep of the family that didn’t go to medical school.

Back in 2012, my father, who is an anesthesiologist at Northwestern in Chicago, asked me to put all this “video game nonsense” to good use and build him a fiberoptic intubation simulator for his colleagues and residents. “I don’t want to drag anyone to the sim center,” he said. “Make me something that’ll run on their iPads.”

Two years later he called me up and asked, “How many people downloaded that thing?” “I have no idea,” I responded. “Let me check.”

So I did. We had 100,000 downloads from doctors, nurses, and EMTs worldwide. At that point, I googled it and they had done efficacy studies on it that showed it improved physician performance. Clearly, this was fulfilling a major unmet need in the medical community.

In 2016, I decided to assemble a team of top video game artists, engineers, and designers – along with top physicians in their field and leaders from digital health to build mobile and VR video games for physicians, now becoming a go-to virtual patient platform that allows them to overcome clinical challenges they face in medical practice, learn new approaches and techniques, and keep up to speed on medical device and pharmaceutical products – all in the framework of an entertaining video game.

Medgadget: What was the biggest design hurdle transitioning from creating entertainment oriented games to medically accurate simulations?

Sam Glassenberg: Our company doesn’t have to make this compromise when creating our games. Our team of game designers, who have decades of experience making games across a number of genres [played by 100s of millions of users], are skilled at applying proven game design principles from entertainment-based games to our physician video games. They know how to capture the thrill and challenge of practicing medicine from first-person perspective surgical scenarios to complex diagnosis puzzles that translates to an engaging and fun experience for the physician, especially when you present competitive design mechanics like scoring, time limits and leaderboards.


Medgadget: Do you foresee Level Ex expanding to mannequins and simulation hardware?

Sam Glassenberg: No; I don’t see us heading in that direction. There’s an ecosystem out there already of companies selling simulators and mannequins into hospitals. Unfortunately, only a fraction of medical professionals can even access this ecosystem since these tools are locked away in a few hundred simulation centers or inconsistently used across hospitals due to cost, lack of realism, and/or limited use cases. We’ve found that our ability to deliver our high bar of realistic content on mobile gives us the ability to impact the practice of medicine at scale (we’ve already crossed 300,000 medical professionals in just a year).


Medgadget: If I gave you $1 billion to develop a product of any kind, what would you create?

Sam Glassenberg: In short: I’d fix EHRs.

Transitioning from a career in video games to healthcare has been a sequence of what I’d call, for lack of a better term, “face-palm-able” moments. Moments where we realize how gruesomely far behind-the-curve healthcare can be relative to other industries. To their credit, healthcare folks readily admit this and share their frustration.

Coming from video games, we are constantly uncovering the challenges doctors face in learning new techniques. The stories all follow the same arc, with a climax that’s some variation of: “Wait a minute – we solved that problem over a decade ago in the games industry!”.

At Level Ex, we’re solving the problem for physician training – which is an important step in improving both patient outcomes and physician job satisfaction.

What is even more crushing to physician job satisfaction? EHRs.

When I order a Lyft on my phone, the user interface has been tuned and optimized to the point that I literally have to move one finger the minimal possible distance with the fewest number of taps to order a car.

My wife’s a pediatrician. At night, I watch her type and click endlessly for hours into her EHR. Typing the same things – over and over again. Dragging her mouse for miles in a slow, unwieldy interface that looks straight out of 1991. She’s literally doing it right now as I type up the answer to this question.

This is someone who has spent a substantial percentage of her life, at considerable expense, learning how to be a doctor. I shudder to think of the billions of dollars wasted as specialists are relegated to data entry, not to mention the immeasurable cost of the resulting attrition.

Facebook, Google, Uber, Grubhub, Siri, video games – we’ve solved these UX and data entry problems many times over. With $1B I’d unleash that on EHRs and disrupt that entire industry.

Early Grade Reading in Nepal – Media Orientation

“My grandfather inspired me to read and always brought me books. Now when I travel, I always remember to bring back books for my children.”
Pushpa Basnet, CNN Hero 2016-17

A young Nepali girl poses with her favorite book during a recent Another Option field visit.

A young Nepali girl poses with her favorite book during a recent Another Option field visit.

The commitment and resolve of these statements reflect the focus of the media orientation workshop organized by the Department of Education (DOE) and the USAID-funded Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP).

Held on February 6 in Kathmandu, the workshop was the first opportunity for 28 Nepali print and broadcast media journalists to come together and understand the program and their role in strengthening the program. Using presentations and group discussions, Focal Person, Bishnu Adhikari, Deputy Director, DOE and EGRP Chief of Party, Edward Graybill along with other technical team leads, shared strategic ideas about the relationship between EGRP and the government’s National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP).

Further, participants received information packets with community mobilization and peer advocacy materials, developed and designed by the program, with the intention to facilitate better communication amongst beneficiary parents and between parents and teachers about children’s reading habit.

“In the 2014 earthquake, houses with strong foundation withstood the damage. Early grade reading is the foundation to improve our children’s future.”
Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education (DOE)

Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education welcomed the participants and opened the workshop by reiterating the critical nature of quality early grade reading and stressed all involved stakeholders to work in tandem to improve access, quality and management of primary education.

Education expert, Mr. Dhananjaya Sharma called for teachers and other stakeholders in primary education to encourage two-way interactions with students and to change classroom settings to make it child-friendly among others.

Special guests at the orientation included comments by Ms. Basnet, named as a CNN Hero in 2016-2017. She stressed the importance of reading in her own personal development from a shy student to a confident woman.

Deputy Director Mr. Adhikari spoke at length about the National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP) and raised issues about program’s implementation including ownership of the program, lack of technical resources and lack of commitment of policy making and implementation.

“Teaching is all encompassing – it is as cultural, social and familial process.”
Dhananjaya Sharma, Education Expert

A key message that came out of the interaction between the journalists and the EGRP and the government teams was that a strong sense of camaraderie and commitment to this important work was required from all stakeholders to implant the love for reading in Nepali children from the very early grades.

A similar workshop will be organized in Bhaktapur, Kaski, Banke, Saptari and Kanchanpur districts in February and March

This blog was prepared by Adheep Pokhrel, Communication Manager for USAID/Nepal’s Early Grade Reading Program managed by RTI International

TEDMED 2015 Kicks Off in La Quinta

Article originally written by Barrett Newkirk for The Desert Sun – November 18, 2015.

Health and wellness reporter Barrett Newkirk can be reached at (760) 778-4767, or on Twitter @barrettnewkirk.

The annual meeting of minds known as TEDMED got underway in La Quinta on Wednesday with hundreds of attendees hearing from a diverse lineup of experts discussing work that often overlaps medicine and technology.

The annual conference, which is the independent and medically focused offshoot of the TEDTALK series, continues through Friday at the La Quinta Resort & Club. As many as 800 were expected to attend, many of them students, medical professional or entrepreneurs.

Chris Bi, a cancer drug researcher with Pfizer in San Diego, took a moment to snap photos of palm trees lit up at night just before the first round of speakers began. Bi said he came to hear from innovators who may help his own research, but also to get exposure to people working in areas far different from his research lab.

“I want to see how things can intersect to help with work in a lot of fields,” he said.

For those who can’t attend in person, live-streaming events are happening around the world. Talks will also be posted on the TEDMED website after they’re completed.

Physician Pamela Wible speaks at TEDMED 2015.  Photo credit: Jerod Harris/provided photo

Physician Pamela Wible speaks at TEDMED 2015. Photo credit: Jerod Harris/provided photo

Speakers Wednesday ran between humorous and deadpan serious. They included people working with the latest in human gene technology and a part-time cardiologist/part-time folk singer who is about to have her second child.

Family physician Pamela Wible began her 15-minute talk in a light mood before calling an alarm on the medical profession.

“I love the three things that people fear the most,” Wible said, “death, disease and public speaking.”

She then discussed the problem of physician suicide, reading suicide notes and showing photos from three cases. She said it’s “medicine’s dark secret, and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics and medical schools.”

Conference speakers Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter stood in the conference’s social lounge after traveling from North Carolina. Their work also crosses unusual boundaries. They use techniques from improvisational theater to help caregivers relate with Alzheimer’s patients.

Stobbe explained that like with improv, caregivers often need to follow someone else’s lead.

“If you’re on stage and someone says ‘I have a duck in my room,’ and you say ‘No you don’t,’ you get into a horrible argument on stage,” she said. “With Alzheimer’s, if someone says ‘I have a duck in my room,’ you go see the duck in their room.”

Stobbe and Carter’s talk is set for Thursday morning as part of a session all about the human mind.