Virtual Reality Surgery

Surgeon turns to virtual reality to train medical students

By Pawan Naidu

A new virtual reality system might be the key in getting surgeons prepared for the operating table.

The typical surgical training involves: reading textbooks, watching videos, practicing on plastic models or cadavers and assisting in real operations. But this isn’t enough sometimes. According to a study, more than 30 percent of US trainee surgeons are unable to perform operations without oversight by the time they graduate. Virtual reality (VR) practice could be a solution.

Justin Barad M.D., Osso VR CEO, has developed a virtual reality platform called Osso for simulating orthopedic operations such as knee surgery and shoulder reconstruction.

Barad invited eight first-year medical students to try the system for the first time. Half-trained using the VR system for 15 minutes, while the others followed an instruction manual to show them how to nail a rod into a shin bone.. The volunteers who trained using the VR performed better when asked to repeat the procedure on a plastic model.

In another experiment students were broken up into two groups – one received VR training and the other didn’t. All subjects performed a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, bladder surgery, with an attending surgeon monitored the student’s training status. VR trained residents did the gallbladder dissection 29 percent faster. Non-VR-trained residents were nine times more likely to fail to make progress and five times more likely to injure the gallbladder.

VR has not only shown to be effective in experiments but there is hope VR could be more cost-efficient than traditional surgical training.

“What we’re hoping to provide for medical-device startups is a scalable, affordable, and more effective training solution to more rapidly train their users,” Barad said to Modern Healthcare.

“Typically, training has been limited to very rudimentary things, like reading or videos that don’t really provide that hands-on experience,” Dr. Nelson SooHoo, an orthopedic surgeon at UCLA Health and a member of Osso VR’s advisory board said to Modern Health. “As a surgeon, what I’m looking for is not something novel, but something familiar. Sometimes, physicians get to work with cadavers, but that kind of training can be expensive and time-consuming.”

Osso VR consists of a headset and two hand controllers that allow students to cut open virtual patients and operate with virtual drills, screws and hammers. Students experience the sensations of drilling through bone as the controllers vibrate. They are transmitted to the users’ hands and change with the type of bone being drilled. However, there are differences from the real tools they would be using because VR can’t simulate the weight and the awkwardnesses of holding the tools.

(Photo By Piron Gillaume) Medical students feel the pressure of perfect surgeries. They go through intense and rigorous training to make sure they are as prepared as they can be to one day perform surgeries on their own.

VR isn’t meant to replace students getting experience by performing operations on tangible models but rather be an additional tool for training before they perform actual operations on real people.

A common method of preparing medical students for surgery is simulation-based training, a method to teach both technical skills and nontechnical skills in a safe, non-threatening environment.

“Medical simulation is the representation of a real medical event by a created model for the purpose of education and/or evaluation. The medical event could be an encounter, a situation or a procedure. The created model is the simulation,” Brian Sweeney MD, professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, said in a study.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School have integrated VR simulation into the third-year medical student training, by simulating different surgery scenarios. The objectives of the surgical simulation scenario are to transfer knowledge of common surgical disorders, and provide skill training for procedures related to disease management and provide a venue for residents and students.

“Absolutely (VR) is a wise investment. My school is building a VR simulation center right now. It doesn’t replace actual experience, such as using cadavers, but it definitely augments; especially for surgery,” Mitch Fagan, a first-year medical student attending Kansas City University for medical school in the fall, said.

Ashley Gregorious, a third-year orthopaedic surgery student at the University of Southern California, said about her experience using VR.

“When your experience you feel like your in a real operating room. There’s a patient on the bed in front of you and you have to move around the room to use get to surgical equipment,” Gregorious said.

It’s safe to say ensuring medical students are as prepared as possible for surgeries is worth pursuing. With universities investing in VR, hopefully, medical students will be more equipped and confident to perform surgery after they graduate.

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