Online virtual worlds are usually stereotyped as a way for nerds to privately escape from reality, but new research from St. Mary’s Hospital at Imperial College London suggests that these simulated fantasy lands can be useful tools for budding surgeons.
Using the popular Second Life virtual world, the researchers created three 3D virtual reality environments that simulated a standard hospital ward, an intensive care unit, and an emergency room. Within these three virtual healthcare facilities, the researchers created modules for common surgical scenarios: gastrointestinal bleeding, acute inflammation of the pancreas, and bowel obstruction. Surgical residents of different levels of training, as well as attending surgeons, were tasked with assessing and managing virtual patients, which involved tasks such as taking a patient history, performing a physical, interpreting labs, diagnosing the disease, using chest X rays and CT scans, and implementing an appropriate management plan. Each case was evaluated and measured from a scale of 8 to 56.
The results suggested that the Second Life environment was a remarkably accurate test of a resident’s abilities; in the GI bleeding module, for example, the interns scored 48, junior residents scored 50, senior residents scored 54, and attendings scored 56.
While virtual training has shown that the more experience a surgeon has in real life, the better he or she scores in virtual life, the overall goal is to improve training by exposing surgical residents to as many different scenarios as possible. Whether or nor the virtual training actually can help improve clinical outcomes is the next thing the researchers plan to find out. We’re just thankful surgical residents aren’t using Surgeon Simulator 2013 for their education.
Abstract from the Journal of the American College of Surgeons: Implementation of an Interactive Virtual-World Simulation for Structured Surgeon Assessment of Clinical Scenarios