Australian surgeons trial new hi-tech training

Virtual reality technology that will allow trainee surgeons to learn and practise on ‘virtual patients’ has been put on trial at Nepean Hospital in Sydney this week.

The technology, developed by scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is said to combine 3D images with an artificial sense of touch to create a realistic simulation of surgical procedures. Users not only see realistic ‘organs’; they can ‘feel’ and manipulate them too.

The trial is the first in a series that will assess the new technology, gather feedback from surgeons and compare the virtual reality system with other training systems.

In the initial trials at Nepean, novices, trainees and experienced surgeons will use the system to perform keyhole surgery to remove a gall bladder from their virtual patient.

‘Initially, we’ll be comparing the results from experienced surgeons and novices to see whether it is possible to measure surgical skill with this simulation,’ explained Dr Peter Cosman, a surgical trainee who is studying new technologies for surgical training at the University of Sydney.

During the trial, surgeons will use instruments inserted through a keyhole incision in a dummy abdomen while viewing a simulation of what is happening inside the ‘patient’.

The secret of the technology lies under the surgical drapes: a robotic arm resists the movement of the instruments in the same way that real organs would resist being moved or cut, making the surgery feel real.

CSIRO and Western Australian company Medic Vision are working together to develop the technology into commercial training modules. If the trials are successful, they plan to have the prototype modules deployed in surgical skills training centres within a year.