Australian hospital to test CSIRO training simulator for gall bladder removal

Sydney 22 November 2001Virtual reality technology that will allow trainee surgeons to learn and practise on "virtual patients" is being trialled in the Division of Surgery at Nepean Hospital in Sydney. The technology, developed by scientists at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), combines 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.

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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. "The results of all the trials will show us what aspects of the system are useful and effective for training and how to improve it", stated Dr. Matthew Hutchins, computer scientist at CSIRO and virtual reality expert. "The surgeons will tell us exactly how realistic the images and touch feedback need to be in order to make the simulation useful for learning and practise."

In the initial trials at Nepean, novices, trainees and experienced surgeons will use the system to perform key-hole surgery to remove a gall bladder from their virtual patient. "Initially, we will be comparing the results both 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 key-hole 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 where a robotic arm resists the movement of the instruments in the same way that real organs would resist being moved or cut. This makes the surgery feel very authentic, even though the organs do not exist.

"We are very interested in this technology", stated Dr. Pat Cregan, a surgeon at Nepean Hospital. "We believe that virtual reality technology will be important in training the next generation of surgeons. It promises to provide faster and better training." CSIRO and Medic Vision, a Western Australian company, 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.

More experiences from surgeons who are testing simulator prototypes for surgical procedures in Europe can be read in the following VMW articles:


Leslie Versweyveld

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