Virtual Reality Headsets May Find A Home In Surgical Training

Researchers in Paris are working on a project that may one day bring virtual reality training aids to surgical students as they learn new procedures. The project is underway at the European Georges Pompidou Hospital, in Paris where orthopedic surgeons recently recorded a total hip replacement while wearing specialized video recording devices that will allow them to create 3D video for use in a commercial virtual reality head set, like Oculus Rift.

Today, even if a resident attends a surgery in person, their view of the procedure is compromised because they do not experience it from the same perspective as the primary surgeon. Residents are often standing off to the side rather than where the primary surgeon would be, resulting in a diminished view of the surgical field. Residents also have their own responsibilities to attend to during the procedure, such as repositioning patients or managing surgical instruments, which makes learning new procedures in the operating room difficult. By creating an immersive, virtual reality experience, surgical residents can experience what it looks like to stand where the primary surgeon would be, getting a first-hand view of the surgical field, and the techniques being applied.

The concept has merit. A recently published JAMA study points out that surgical residents need regular simulation-based training on each of the procedures they are learning in order to maintain skills, and that “even 2 weeks without practice on a minimally invasive surgical simulator can lead to a substantial decline in skills.” The study goes on to explain that medical schools often struggle to motivate surgical residents to practice on simulators as much as they should. A study that followed 141 residents for eight weeks found that only three residents actually used the schools surgical simulator, for a total training time of 2.7 hours.

As a solution, researchers suggest that more engaging training methods need to be incorporated into surgical programs. This particular study tested whether adding a competitive component to otherwise bland simulation training would boost utilization rates among the students. The results were definitive, researchers found a significant increase in frequency and total time spent practicing with surgical simulation tools after a skills competition between the residents was announced and a leaders board was published.

Within the academic community, there certainly seems to be some momentum forming behind redesigned medical training tools to provide more realistic and engaging aids, its yet to be seen whether this translates to an increase in digital health startups focusing on this problem, and ultimately an increase in venture capital funds targeting this niche.

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