Immersive technology start-up specializing in medical virtual reality simulators.
We believe that VR simulation can contribute to surgical training and improve the educational experience without putting patients at risk, raising ethical issues or requiring expensive animal or cadaver facilities.
In the beginning of the previous century, an apprenticeship model of surgical training was outlined, and it is widely adapted to this day. The model is based on a high-volume, hands-on training with gradually decaying level of supervision, until the trainee is judged by his mentor competent enough to operate on his/her own. Improvements in quality and safety standards in surgical training yielded the apprenticeship model insufficient to create a competent surgeon in a patient-safe way.
As a result, pressure on training outside the operating room (OR) has increased. However, gaining core surgical skills on animals or cadavers is expensive and brings ethical issues, thus restricting their use in everyday training. Using inexpensive, low-fidelity task physical trainers can provide effective training of the key elements of the procedure but lacks the real-life effect of a complete surgery.
Moreover, animals and cadavers, as well as foam, silicon or plastic parts used in task trainers, have a lack of physiological behaviour and different bio-mechanical properties compared to human tissue. Hence, these methods do not provide sufficient realism. Finally, to be most efficient, they require feedback from an expert at different training stages.
An alternative approach is an interactive computer-based simulation enabling safe training in a virtual environment. Such systems, often referred to as virtual reality (VR) simulators, proved to be effective especially in military, pilot and astronaut training. In other words, wherever conventional training is dangerous or expensive. Although a sophisticated simulator can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, they are cheaper than an actual tank, aircraft or space shuttle.
Healthcare is one of the biggest adopters of virtual reality which encompasses surgery simulation, phobia treatment, robotic surgery and skills training. In medicine, staff can use virtual environments to train in everything from surgical procedures to diagnosing a patient.
High-fidelity VR simulators have a number of advantages over the aforementioned methods of surgical training. They provide a safe, controllable and configurable training environment free from ethical issues in which clinicians can repetitively practice without putting patients at risk. In fact, VR simulators have been expected to become an important part of surgical training since the early 1990s. Whilst their initial cost might seem expensive at first, VR simulators can in fact be cost-effective when considering the wider economic benefits of better-trained surgeons and resource optimisation. Studies show savings on instructor time, error reduction and faster completion times. Moreover, VR simulators can be applied to explore new ways of performing a surgery, prototyping medical equipment or to become familiar with new surgical techniques or new surgical devices.
A particularly interesting application is to combine surgical simulation with methods of artificial intelligence. For example, similarly to automotive industry, let the surgical robots of the future to learn, by trial and error, inside virtual patients most optimal ways of performing various surgeries.
In summary, it is well documented that VR simulation of surgical procedures contributes to medical training and improves the educational experience without putting patients at risk, raising ethical issues or requiring expensive animal or cadaver facilities.
Recent reviews show that, although VR simulation is now successfully used in various surgical specialities, there is still enormous potential for further development.
– Due to highly non-linear behaviour and topological changes (tearing, cutting) simulation of virtual tissues is very challenging, especially in real-time
– Bespoke hardware input interfaces, which mimic surgical instruments, are expensive to manufacture, especially when equipped with haptics (force-feedback)