Virtual training helps surgical residents with patient management

Three-dimensional simulation technology via Second Life could be the basis for a new tool to help surgical residents fine tune their patient management skills, according to research published in the August edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

For the study, researchers from Imperial College, St. Mary's Hospital in London built three virtual environments--a hospital ward, an intensive care unit and an emergency room--to help surgical residents with varying experience levels in taking diagnostics and managing their patients. Three different scenarios also were included for the program: gastrointestinal bleeding, acute inflammation of the pancreas and bowel obstruction.

A total of 63 surgeons, whose experience ranged from intern to attending, participated in the study; the performance of the latter set of surgeons was used as a performance benchmark, according to the researchers.

"Going through these different steps is not going to teach residents everything they need to know for every patient with bowel obstruction, for example, but it is going to teach them about the majority of patients that he or she is going to look after, and it's going to do it in a much more education-efficient and appropriate manner," study co-author Rajesh Aggarwal, a clinician scientist in surgery at Imperial College, St. Mary's Hospital, said in an announcement. "This platform can also be used as a refresher so it can be used for the maintenance of their skills, not just the acquisition of their skills."

Aggarwal added that the method allows surgical residents to train in a more "structured" manner; current typical training, he said, is called 'training by chance,' and uses real patients.

"What we are doing is taking the chance encounters out of the way residents learn," Aggarwal said.

Research published in the journal PLOS One in February determined that use of the Nintendo Wii could be a helpful and inexpensive part of supplemental training for young laparoscopic surgeons. What's more, a U.K. hospital last year reportedly began using technology similar to what is used in Wii remotes to train its surgeons. Additionally, surgeons in Canada have used Microsoft Kinect technology to manage diagnostic images during procedures.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- check out the accompanying announcement