"Virtual Surgery" Soon a Reality Says Emory Physician in Nature Clinical Practice Journal


Virtual reality (VR) simulators should be used to teach doctors new skills and will soon become a standard tool for medical training and surgical procedures, an Emory physician says in the April edition of Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine.

“This approach has great potential to allow inexperienced physicians to acquire meaningful new procedural skills… without jeopardizing patient safety in the process,” writes Dr. Christopher Cates, MD, director of vascular intervention at Emory University Hospital.

Dr. Cates believes that virtual reality could one day become a mandatory component of procedural training for physicians. Recently returned from an international conference in Rio de Janeiro, where he and others conducted a symposium on the use of VR training, he described the current technology as “very impressive.”

“With a simulator you can measure every minute movement in the virtual anatomy. You can see whether the person is scraping or pushing too hard as he’s turning the catheter, and whether he is doing the sequence in the exact right order.”

In addition to so-called ’mission rehearsals’, in which doctors can practice procedures on a reconstruction of an actual patient’s anatomy, VR technology also provides the potential to rate surgical skill on a real scale.

“This VR simulation can actually measure the performance of a physician,” says Dr. Cates. “In the future, to be certified for a procedure, you could have to spend a certain amount of time on a simulator to prove that you are proficient in the technique.

“There is also real potential to create a worldwide training standard, where it doesn’t matter if you’re in Beijing, Sidney or Kuala Lumpur — the doctor is the same quality and has been trained by the same system,” he added.

VR simulation training has already begun for carotid stenting — a procedure to increase blood flow in the carotid arteries, which supply the head and neck. Three major symposia have already taken place in the US. The first group completed the final tier of the program towards the end of last year, all achieving proficiency that was comparable with the experts.

If the program continues to be successful, other procedures could soon be rehearsed in a similar fashion.

“In my opinion, this will forever change the way we train for medical procedures,” says Dr. Cates.
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