There’s no getting around it, surgery is incredibly complex. For residents learning how to suture and tying knots to experienced surgeons learning the latest in laparoscopic procedures, mastering the technique is no simple task. And still, getting quality feedback and guidance on improvement isn’t easy.
But technology is changing this. In addition to traditional methods such as working on cadavers and working with pigs, two new methods are entering the field and are helping to enhance the training surgeons receive: Virtual Reality and Video-Recording Training.
In addition to other new technologies like AI and machine learning, virtual and augmented reality simulations are dramatically reshaping how we approach medicine. VR and AR training modules are helping to address the need for effective training methods that students can perform early on in their surgical career. For experienced surgeons, who are integrating the latest tools and techniques, there is a steep learning curve. Through utilizing VR simulations, surgeons and medical students are able to practice and integrate the requisite skills. For complex and intricate procedures, practicing on cadavers is simply not an option. For example, VR was used to prepare for the separation of a set of conjoined twins in Minnesota.
While the quality of simulations is improving, however, the realism of these systems is limited and still does not wholly represent the experience of real surgery.
Looking at real-cases and actual situations is something no simulation will ever be able to fully match. Imitating patient variability, their risks and condition, and the actually applied surgical technique is simply impossible. For this reason, using video-based surgical training gives unique insight into surgical technique and decision-making in the OR.
Video-recording enables students, residents, and even seasoned surgeons to leverage a simultaneously broader and more in-depth view of their performance. This is particularly important for assessing surgical skill, and also understanding a surgeons thought-process around why they chose a specific course of action.
Being able to review surgical video makes it easier to identify deviations from best practices and offer constructive and insightful feedback on how to improve. For experienced surgeons looking to integrate new technologies, being able to get feedback from fellow clinicians is paramount. Atul Gawande stressed the importance of peer coaching in a 2017 TED Talk.
Additionally, video-based training can draw from tools already situated in the OR. Whereas VR requires large upfront costs, video recording draws on data already collected from throughout the OR. Being able to record this, review it, and annotate it helps to establish best practices. Analysis of technique and outcome also allows for surgeons to identify areas of weakness that might not otherwise be caught.
Surgical training, much like all of healthcare, is undergoing a revolution as new technologies enable things previously impossible. Having the right tools makes all the difference, especially when it comes to surgical training. Virtual reality and video-based surgical training work in tandem to provide practical training and post-operative insight. Their integration into surgical training serves to improve both the surgical skill and patient outcomes.