How virtual reality can help train surgeons

By Gideon Blumstein

Our current system of training and assessing surgeons has lagged behind the pace of innovation, leaving some doctors unprepared to perform complex surgeries and putting some patients at risk. Using virtual reality (VR) technology in training may play an important role in addressing these deficiencies and improving skills.

How can we deliver the right kind of training in a standardized way? Furthermore, how can we objectively assess whether surgeons can perform proficiently before entering independent practice? Surgeons often lack adequate opportunities to consistently practice skills they’re learning—especially skills related to new medical technologies.

These shortfalls are creating increasing levels of risk, with serious consequences for patients and the surgeons that care for them. The situation may continue to worsen owing to the looming impact of the aging baby boomer population and the projected surgeon shortage, which will further exacerbate the issue of access to trained and qualified surgeons.

By definition, VR platforms directly address the skills gap by providing immersive, hands-on training that closely simulates an operating room environment. VR platforms offer portable, on-demand training that can be used anytime, anywhere.

Hospitals and universities around the world have successfully embraced VR-based training for years, but until now, we’ve had limited research on VR’s effectiveness. We set out to fill that gap through our recent clinical validation study at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

In the study, which was performed over two weeks, 20 participants were randomized between a traditionally trained group and a group that underwent VR training on the Osso VR platform to a specified level of proficiency. Then, each participant performed a procedure to repair a fractured tibia, one of the bones running between the knee and ankle.

As measured by the Global Assessment Five-Point Rating Scale, participants in the VR group received significantly higher ratings in all categories compared to the traditionally trained group, with an overall improvement of 230 percent in the total score. VR-trained participants completed the procedure an average of 20 percent faster than the traditionally trained group. They also completed 38 percent more steps correctly in the procedure-specific checklist. Both findings were statistically significant.

With a strained surgical-education system, rapid medical innovation and a pending surgeon shortage, VR may offer an important educational tool to augment surgeon training and continue to offer patients the very best care.

Gideon Blumstein is an orthopedic surgery resident at UCLA’S David Geffen School of Medicine.


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