Surgical Simulation Training: Is Virtual Reality The Future Of Surgical Training?
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What Is Surgical Simulation Training? 

Surgical training is essential for maintaining quality patient outcomes and ensuring surgeons can perform routine and complex procedures. Standard education and training activities are a normal part of a surgeon’s continuing education; but as this training is both time and cost intensive, practitioners searching for robust supplementary models are turning to virtual reality surgical training.

Virtual reality simulated training can teach basic skills to surgeons by using a computer generated environment to improve their efficacy at performing procedures like laparoscopic surgery. These tools are then used to evaluate a surgeon’s competencies for performing specific tasks.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to adopt surgical simulation training and education for practitioners.

Surgical simulation training uses a computer software program to train surgeons through video simulation drills. Surgical training fosters growth in cognitive, technical, and clinical aptitudes. Simulation helps to offer standardization of skill competencies and educational and training requirements for surgeons or surgical residents. Simulation developers consider costs, computing power, fidelity, and real time response in the creation of their products.

The costs of the simulation training range from 5 to 200 thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the training module and the software requirements. Although there is evidence that this type of training will reduce the reliance on cadavers and other expensive training methodologies, it hasn’t yet been proven to be better than these traditional methods.

One example of surgical simulation training deficiency is that the simulator cannot prepare practitioners for handling surgical smoke. Since the environment is simulated, smoke cannot be produced. As the technology develops these innovations may change and improve to integrate important safety conditions like surgical smoke into the training simulation.

Benefits Of Using Surgical Simulation

Even though surgical simulation training has not been proven to be better than other training methodologies, there are a number of benefits to using these simulation tools. Most notably, they have been shown to enhance patient outcomes.

In one study of 16 surgical residents, the use of virtual training decreased errors during gallbladder surgery. Residents who were not trained using simulation were five times more likely to injure the gallbladder, while the mean errors for the simulation-trained group were six times less likely to occur. The use of virtual simulation improved the overall outcome for the patient.

The use of virtual simulation also improved the time required to perform procedures for those who were trained. In the study referenced above, residents who were trained using the simulation model dissected the gallbladder 29 percent faster than those who did not receive simulation training.

Surgeons are also beginning to understand how surgical simulation can be useful in their learning and how this video-game-like experience can offer students a “test drive” of the body.

“It's just amazing to see every little opening in the skull where a nerve goes through”, says Dr. Neil Martin, chairman of University of California Los Angeles’ department of neurosurgery. “On the image, I can see the carotid artery going through the margin of the tumor. [...] Rather than have that all of a sudden appear as I'm removing tumor, I'll know exactly when I'm going to encounter it”, Martin continues. “That is a big improvement.”

Pilots often fly simulated trips to aid in their training and multiple industries have used virtual reality. Now its prowess and effectiveness for healthcare practitioners is being touted.

How Surgical Simulation Will Change Education

Surgical simulation training will likely change several areas of surgical training and education. Surgical training has typically followed an apprenticeship model, in which a surgeon follows a more senior surgeon to watch and learn how the surgeon handles their work.

The introduction of virtual simulators may change how a training surgeon learns to perform surgery, as the use of these modules creates a standardized framework that could be applied to surgeons who are trained and who practice.

For now, surgical simulators are often used as supplementary training experiences rather than primary training tools. Some studies have indicated that the use of this training in laparoscopy in particular helped to reduce suture times and increase surgeon accuracy. However, using the model alone may not provide socialization and other skills needed to function in the surgical environment.

Surgical simulation training and education is an exciting technological development with a lot of promise.

Developers will continue to improve and create better and more enhanced surgical simulation training modules as technology advances are achieved. Healthcare organizations and physicians will likely continue to use this tool as an enhancement to the educational process. Future research will reveal how these models impact surgical training and how they compare to other training and education modules.

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