New virtual reality simulator Kylie helps Australian doctors reduce surgical errors

Victoria 11 April 2003The surgeons of the future could soon be learning their skills with the help of a new virtual reality simulator invented by a team at Monash University. It will enable surgeons to master keyhole techniques, which are being used for an increasing number of operations like hysterectomies, tumour removal and the removal of ectopic pregnancies, which previously required major surgical intervention.

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The technology of the simulator is being claimed as the most advanced of its type in the world. Professor David Healy, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology based at Monash Medical Centre; Associate Professor Ian Brown, the Director of the Centre for Biomedical Engineering; and Ph.D. researcher Zorana Mayooran have filed a patent to protect key aspects of the simulator, nicknamed Kylie.

Unlike earlier devices, which required the surgeon to put on a headset and gloves, the new model works like the simulators used to train airline pilots or to aid top golfers practising before a major tournament. Kylie will allow surgeons to practise by standing in front of a simulated patient's abdomen and working at a computer screen in real time", stated Professor Healy. "They will have instruments in front of them and actually be able to feel the weight and texture of tissue and organs as they work."

Just like a real operation, the surgeons insert a tiny video camera into the body and then study graphics on a computer screen representing the anatomy. Ian Brown claimed that while Kylie is actually empty, the technology allows surgeons to virtually conduct a range of procedures, such as cutting out tumours. "Kylie is a great example of what Monash can do. The development would not have been possible without the combined efforts of the engineering and medical faculties. Now that we have a demonstration model and own the intellectual copyright for the simulator, we can press ahead in the search for venture capital", Professor Brown added.

"Up until now it hasn't been possible to measure a specialist surgeon's competency objectively before they go into the operating theatre but with the simulator we will be able to do that throughout a surgeon's career", stated Professor Healy. "The device can be set to match different skill levels, so it will be of equal use to junior surgeons training at Monash University and leading specialists."

The technology has come about after reports that obstetricians are leaving the profession in droves because of soaring insurance costs and an increasing number of cases of litigation. The simulator's inventors are seeking financial backing to develop the device at an estimated cost of $1-1,5 million. They believe that could prove to be a tiny figure when matched against the $60 million currently paid annually in Victoria alone to meet insurance claims against public hospitals.

"Kylie could help reduce those claims dramatically by producing surgeons who are better prepared to go into the operating theatre and less likely to make mistakes", stated Professor Healy. "I would like to see all surgeons spend at least two hours a week using this simulator, as part of their continuing education." The training programme, if implemented in hospitals throughout Australia, would be bound to reduce surgical mistakes.


Leslie Versweyveld

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