Leveraging Tech for an Immersive Experience

The Virtual Reality Surgery Simulator is a computer-based, interactive virtual reality program that runs on commercially available Oculus hardware. The simulator was built using standard VR development tools and applications that are commonly used by video game development studios and taught in top video game development education programs like SMU Guildhall.

VRSS trainees wear an Oculus Rift headset on their head and hold one Oculus Touch wireless hand controller in each hand. The simulation starts in a virtual training room with guidance to help the trainee get comfortable working in the virtual environment. The trainee is represented by an avatar, with the ability to view only their hands. Once the trainee is comfortable, the simulation transitions to a basic operating room environment, featuring an operating table with a tray of instruments and a virtual patient prepared for surgery.

The simulation begins at the point in the surgery where the key procedures for this training begin. Visual instructions are provided on a virtual monitor, and audio feedback is provided to reinforce procedural knowledge by guiding users through the steps. The headset view of each VR training session is recorded for review and reflection.

Completed Research & Results

The first phase of the VRSS project, focusing on cervical cancer surgery, was completed in October 2019. The simulator was evaluated in a randomized clinical trial with surgical trainees at the University of Zambia; participants in the trial were randomly assigned to one of two training conditions: VR-enhanced surgical training or traditional surgical training. The goal of this trial was to assess the feasibility of the technology and compare the effectiveness and cost of VR-enhanced training with that of traditional surgical training.

The trial demonstrated that surgical trainees’ movement and time efficiency improved significantly over time when they used the virtual reality surgery simulator for just minutes each day. In addition, trainees who completed the simulation training became more confident in their surgical and anatomical knowledge, and felt more comfortable applying the skills learned to other areas. Results were published in ecancer and the Journal of Global Oncology; additional publications are forthcoming.

A New Frontier: Postpartum Hemorrhage

The next phase of the project, focused on postpartum hemorrhage treatment, is currently underway. Trials are expected to begin in 2021.

The Future

As VR technology continues to advance, new systems that are completely portable and even more cost-efficient are expected to be released. As these systems become available, the VRSS team plans to utilize them to further reduce the cost of VR surgical training.

This project is funded with support from the Medical Research Council, UK and the Wellcome Trust.