Developing Video Games for Medical Diagnostics

Using video games to diagnose and treat hearing and listening difficulties

How did we originally learn to understand the speech of others? It took years of training. If our ears start failing, our hearing can be corrected by hearing aids, but our listening ability needs to be retrained for the new sounds. Accurate diagnosis is essential to help understand the type of assistance needed. Properly designed video games based on scientific principles can provide diagnostic tools as well as training opportunities for new hearing aid recipients. 


Dr. Dennis Barbour at Washington University in St. Louis believes that video games have a potential that far surpasses entertainment value. Dr. Barbour is designing portable video games constructed from auditory tasks handled differently by individuals with hearing difficulties compared to individuals with listening difficulties. Hearing difficulties can be treated with hearing aids, but listening difficulties require training or other therapy. Currently, diagnosis is imprecise, inconvenient and costly because it requires multiple batteries of tests delivered by experts using specialized equipment. Additionally, some of the technology and techniques used for this process are decades old. Dr. Barbour believes that his novel video games will be useful for anyone who has trouble following a conversation, initially to determine the likely effectiveness of a hearing aid and later for therapeutic purposes.

  • Dr. Barbour is at the start of this newly developing project and hopes to begin collecting data this summer to begin evaluating his games accuracy of diagnoses.
  • He has software development currently underway and multiple games have been designed and are in various stages of coding.
  • Dr. Barbour works with clinical collaborators and previously diagnosed patients to ensure accuracy of diagnosis.
  • Within the video games, players each experience different game materials and machine learning methods are used to classify player performance to make diagnoses.
  • Dr. Barbour will shortly be releasing games on app store platforms in order to start collecting even more data.

Dr. Barbour can modernize the process of diagnosing hearing and listening difficulties, and empower patients to perform screening tests in the comfort of their own homes. This endeavour encapsulates the best approaches of mobile electronics and health informatics.  Most of all, if patients play the same games for longer periods of time, Dr. Barbour believes that his games could serve as auditory training to improve listening skills. Hundreds of millions of individuals around the world with hearing and listening disabilities could benefit now, but the principles under development could revolutionize the procedure for distributed diagnosis and treatment of a variety of disorders.


Professor Barbour's research interests include perception, neuroscience, neuroplasticity, brain-computer interfaces, signal processing, computation and health care informatics.

He is researching the encoding of complex sounds within the auditory system.

His work has the potential to ultimately improve the communication ability of numerous individuals including cochlear implantees, hard-of-hearing individuals with hearing aids and even children newly acquiring language.

Professor Barbour also investigates novel methods of rewiring brain circuitry to take on new or improved functions.


Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology Primary Healthcare Prize Finalist

Biomedical Engineering Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Inaugural Washington University Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Research

Inaugural Washington University Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Washington University Center for Aging Pilot Project Award