Virtual reality technology for the first time is proving its practical use in the everyday medical environment. HT Medical Systems, a company specialised in virtual reality medical simulation and visualisation technology, has developed an Intravenous Training System, called CathSim, to offer care providers a realistic means to practise invasive procedures before actually addressing themselves to the patient. The computer-based system constitutes an economically viable tool to award doctors and nurses the visual, physical and tactile experience of introducing a catheter needle into the veins of simulated patients.
A three-year, money-eating, and collaborative research has preceded the introduction of the CathSim. The project has been executed in a mutual effort between Plattsburgh State University of New York and the Rockville-based HT Medical Systems Company. The U.S. Navy, the Advanced Technology Programme of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the National Institutes of Health, the State of Maryland, and the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, have equally lent their financial support to realise a successful outcome of the original plan.
The intravenous training simulator consists of a small robotic system with the appropriate name of AccuTouch. This tactile feedback device imitates under computer control the natural sensation which is felt when "popping" the needle into the vein. The software includes the innovative and interactive Teleos technology, designed by the Rockville company. In the initial version, CathSim's software module comprises six patient cases, each of them presenting a different realistic situation and level of complication. In the near future, supplementary modules will be developed, such as Central Venous Line Placement and Peripherally Inserted Central Catheterisation.
Before the arrival of the CathSim system, venipuncture procedures were usually trained on oranges, grapefruit, or plastic models as an poor alternative for intravascular therapies. As a result, health care providers sometimes lack the necessary skill for this type of intervention, resulting in possible infection or other undue harm for the patient. Since 80% of the hospitalised patients receive intravenous therapy, inadequate training in catheter placement techniques is one of the important causes for additional cost in health institutions.
The United States Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA) therefore has signed a cooperative development agreement with HT Medical to provide the CathSim with features, allowing the hospital management to benchmark the performance of nursing staff in placing intravenous catheters. The final goal is to increase the level of skill and self-confidence among the health care givers before entering in contact with the patient. At present, the CathSim training system is already being used in nursing programmes at the University of Maryland, James Madison University, Charles County Community College, and Prince Georges Community College.