Tech As a Teacher: Virtual Reality To Revolutionize Orthopedic Surgery Training
The Importance of Training
It’s no secret that a surgeon’s job is highly specialized; it requires technical expertise, a problem-solving mindset, as well as precise physical skills. The smallest error or miscalculation could lead to disastrous results, which can certainly be the case when it comes to orthopedic procedures. Notably, an estimated four to five percent of these kinds of treatments lead to complications.  Not only does this raise medical costs and lead to the need for further work, it can be potentially fatal.
The big question for the medical field is how best to reduce these numbers, and certainly how orthopedic surgeons are trained is one place to look. This is why it’s exciting that a team at Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY, has started working on developing the use of virtual reality technology for training.  With the frenetic pace of computing development, there’s no doubt that surgeons, too, will be able to enter the profession better able to take on challenges and deliver effective treatment.
The project, under the direction of Dr. Brian Johns and student, Nicholas Bieno, aims to craft virtual reality simulations of surgical situations for students to hone and develop their skills. According to Bieno, “The goal is that we have a virtual reality that simulates what it actually is like in the operating room.”  But they aren’t starting from scratch; basically, the idea is to tailor and repurpose existing gaming and graphics technologies to adapt them to create lifelike and accurate simulations of bodies for novice surgeons to practice on.
The advantages of such an approach are clear. Presently, surgical training occurs, more-or-less, on the job. After completing their medical degrees, prospective surgeons go through a training period, or “residency,” to hone and develop their skills. This means they learn by doing: on the job and while working in real-life situations and real people. They get help and mentorship from more experienced colleagues, of course, but there’s inherent risk to this approach. Since less-experienced surgeons have a higher propensity for mistakes and complications, this is a less than ideal situation.
But what’s really at stake here? Most obviously, severe complications can lead to other dangerous conditions and in extreme cases, death. In addition, surgical mishaps lead to significant economic consequences. When things go wrong, medical expenses accrue, leading to significant increases in costs for patients, hospitals, and, due to impacts on Medicare and Medicaid, tax payers.  It’s tougher to gauge the exact burden, but, according to Bieno, post-operative complications cost “billions of dollars a year in medical expenses.” 
Clearly, then, allowing newer surgeons to work on their skills in virtual environments will help reduce both mortality in patients and medical costs in general.
Brighter Futures for Orthopedic Patients
While there’s more work ahead for this Cornell-based team, there’s no doubt that the applications of technology in medicine and medical training will continue to yield better outcomes for patients. Not only will surgical residents gain better expertise with virtual reality, but doctors with experience can find another avenue to refine or broaden their skillsets. For the many Americans that suffer with orthopedic issues, this means surgery will become an even better and more effective solution. As effective as such work is now, it’ll only get better.
If you’re suffering from pain or other conditions in the knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or ankle, the team at Onward Orthopedics is ready to help. These expert surgeons and dedicated support staff members have helped countless patients find effective relief from a wide range of conditions. Learn more about what they do by calling (800) 577-1693 today!
1. Ricketts, D, RA Rogers, T Roper, and X Ge. 2017. “Recognising And Dealing With Complications In Orthopaedic Surgery”. The Annals Of The Royal College Of Surgeons Of England 99 (3): 185-188. Royal College of Surgeons of England. doi:10.1308/rcsann.2016.0364.
2. “Team Creates Virtual Reality Surgical Simulator | Cornell College”. 2017. Cornell College News Center. Accessed March 22 2018. http://news.cornellcollege.edu/2017/10/research-team-creates-virtual-reality-surgical-simulator/.
3. Perencevich, Eli N., Kenneth E. Sands, Sara E. Cosgrove, Edward Guadagnoli, Ellen Meara, and Richard Platt. 2003. “Health And Economic Impact Of Surgical Site Infections Diagnosed After Hospital Discharge”. Emerging Infectious Diseases 9 (2): 196-203. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). doi:10.3201/eid0902.020232.