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Virtual Surgery: The Future of Digital Education

29 May 2015

Virtual Surgery: The Future of Digital Education

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Whether or not the word videogames are something you particularly care about, it’s growing increasingly more difficult to escape their influence on our society. Beyond their growing mark on culture, news of novel technologies continually creep into seemingly unrelated websites, latching onto tangently-related topics and catching you where you least expect it.

And, on that note, here’s an article on why you could soon be learning new techniques through all the magic and wonder of virtual reality.

It’s a common scene during a daily commute: to your left, there’s a middle aged man furiously swiping at some digital fruit. To the right, a woman madly trying to match coloured shapes against a clock. Mobile gaming is already ubiquitous, with predictions that the industry will be worth over £15bn by 2016.[1] And while devices and software both grow more and more sophisticated, there is a growing potential for the use of games as a training tool.

Surgery games are by no means a new invention. From 1964’s Operation up to Atlus’s Trauma Centre in 2005, the past is littered with attempts to simulate surgery (though these often trade the realistic for the downright fantastical). In recent years, though, there has been increasing interest in the use of accurate, intuitive simulations as an educational tool.

One example is Touch Surgery, an app first released in 2013.[2] Designed by the London-based Kinosis Ltd, Touch Surgery provides a fully rendered 3D simulation of numerous common procedures, including carotid endarterectomies, ACL reconstructions and laparoscopic appendectomies (kudos to all those who can pronounce those names with a straight face).

Indeed, it seems that laparoscopic surgeons are particularly relevant to this technology. For those unfamiliar with obtuse naming conventions, laparoscopic surgeries are operations performed using a long, fibre optic cable system called a laparoscope, allowing the surgeon to perform through a small incision rather than an invasive open surgical procedure. In short, they operate using a computer screen; as such, the relatability of simulated surgery should be immediately obvious.

A recent study published in Medicine (Baltimore)[3] trialled the use of virtual reality training on university med students. The study compared the speed and efficiency of novices ion two groups – one group given eLearning, while the other group given virtual reality simulations of laparoscopic procedures. Assessing the groups’ ability to perform a model procedure on a cadaver, the results demonstrated over twice as many VR students successfully completing the procedure within an acceptable time (45% vs 21%, P=0.02). This is not the only such study this year, with VR simulations also used to train surgeons in endoscopic sinus surgery,[4] endovascular procedures[5] and arthroscopy procedures.[6]

While there is still a long way to go before VR simulation becomes an essential part of surgical education,[7] the upcoming release of the Occulus Rift[8] and similar headset technologies presents an interesting scenario for us all. While apps are already on the market, the advent of commercial virtual reality could allow anyone – student, practitioner, member of the public - to experience pseudo-surgery from a first person perspective. And with the foundations for medical surgical simulations already present, we can quickly expect dental equivalents to be made available. Or, rather, something a tad more sophisticated than what’s currently available.









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