ovidVR hit the surgical training product market last May with a backpack size Virtual Reality (VR) versions of a complete total knee and total hip arthroplasty. ovidVR aims to complement the traditional cadaver lab, by adding a multi-user co-op mode and performance analytics, which render trainees hyper-realistic surgical opportunities and supervisors giving feedbacks at the same time.

This June, Osso VR, a surgical training platform founded by game developer turned orthopedic surgeon, Justin Barad, partnered with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s orthopedic residency program, to provide new surgeons with hands-on training via VR. VR has added a twist to the existing simulation surgical training and gradually outdating the classic master apprentice model devised by Halsted at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the late 19th Century.

It’s not if it remains a form of shadow learning

Unlike “see one, do one, teach one”, VR allows training boundaries to be set beforehand and better track the progress of trainees as they deliberately rehearse the surgical procedures. While repeated practice surely perfects a skill, it’s still immature to determine whether VR prepares residents for complications or unexpected mishaps during an operation.

With that, when to introduce VR training became a crucial turning point. Most US hospitals are equipped with surgical robots and often, surgeons are in control of them and residents’ role is to either observe or assist minimally. Successful residents usually go through peripheral means of learning how to perform a surgery – be it watching recorded surgical procedures online or undergoing simulation practice, like the ones VR offer.

Project scientist and incoming assistant professor from University of California, Santa Barbara – Matt Beane calls them shadow learning. Because on one hand, residents do not have sufficient experiences in controlling these surgery robot, and on the other hand, they also do not have ample real surgery experiences. Most of these residents, especially the struggling ones, will ultimately graduate without learning much.

A problem for surgeons which technology cannot solve

Of course, some may argue that it boils down to what program the residents are in and who do they train under. Nevertheless, the road to becoming a surgeon is nowhere smooth as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education restricts residents to work a maximum of 80 hours per week.

This means residents could at most participate two to three surgeries every week and perhaps a year’s worth of experiences is now missing. Although VR has offer a new training option, whether it can exert its real influence and kick start something revolutionary, it’s still beyond the say of technology.

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Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.