How VR Is Revolutionising Surgical Training

When most of us go under the knife, we don’t really stop to think about how competent the surgeon is doing the surgery and how they have learnt and honed their skills. We assume they are competent and have done this numerous times. But they had to start somewhere, and traditionally this has been through observing real surgeries with an experienced surgeon in the room, resulting in a bit of a lottery of students fighting each other to get access to the less frequent surgeries – this is far from an ideal way to learn and not conducive to learning with confidence.

This may be one reason why the US medical industry has paid out over $20 million in medical malpractice lawsuits in the 2010s. The high court also reports that 85% of surgeons are likely to be sued at some point in their career.

A staggering 10% of deaths in the US are due to medical error.

The pandemic put an unprecedented amount of pressure on healthcare systems across the world. Emergency rooms and hospitals in general were regularly at max capacity. The focus on treating COVID meant that many elective surgeries were either delayed or postponed.

The lack of surgeries had a knock-on effect for the next generation of surgeons. They were no longer able to hone their skills in the operating room. This saw a spike in academic medical institutions reaching out to the Johnson & Johnson institute for an alternative solution.

Johnson & Johnson’s VR Training

J&J are not just a multinational pharmaceutical company. Their medical training institute is where “doctors and nurses learn cutting-edge care”. J&J have been training medical professionals since 1992, with facilities located in 23 cities across 5 continents.

Surgeries are often difficult to learn from by students, because that are incredibly high-stakes and relatively rare. The pandemic has exacerbated this problem. VR is becoming the most popular solution.

The main way new surgeons are trained is with practical, in-operating room experience. The lack of opportunity during the pandemic forced innovation in this space, with J&J pioneering the first VR training experience for surgeries.

Why VR?

We already know that trainees learn up 4 times faster when learning in VR – as opposed to traditional training methods like lectures and textbooks. They’re also more likely to feel more emotionally connected to the content and therefore more confident applying what they have learnt.

J&J have pioneered VR training since 2017, with a training module that trained surgeons to implant orthopaedic devices. The pandemic spurred this learning sector forward, and was catalyst for the institute to double-down on this initial progress.

How It Works

J&J surgeons trained in a procedure of the lower leg called a ‘tibial shaft fracture intramedullary nailing’. Like all surgeries, it is crucial that surgeons are incredibly precise in the operating room. Students trained in VR scored 233% higher than those trained with passive learning tools. They were also 2.5 times more likely to successfully complete a VR training course than they were to complete a traditional training course. This speaks to both the effectiveness and enjoyment experienced of a VR experiences.

More students than ever are clambering to get into operating rooms. VR is solving this problem at scale.

The Vice president of global education solutions at J&J medical devices, Sandra Humbles, said that “We knew VR could help surgeons learn new procedures faster than traditional teaching methods like watching videos or reading textbooks”. The pandemic was the perfect opportunity to put this into practice.

VR empowers surgeons to practice a procedure in a controlled, safe, fully-digital environment, without ever having to put patients at risk before they are ready. VR will never be a replacement for the ‘real thing’, getting to observe in a real world surgical procedure, but it has proven to be a scalable and effective way to train surgeons. Now that the benefits of VR have been realised, it is going to become a critical component how doctors, surgeons and nurses are trained.

VR And the Future Of Learning

The J&J institute is leveraging VR technology to enhance surgical training for its employees and customers. By developing immersive educational experiences powered by the Oculus Quest, the company is able to offer a more efficient and effective way of training its surgeons and improving patient outcomes.

This is a more efficient and cost-effective way of training its surgeons, as they can learn at their own pace, in a safe and monitored environment.

As VR technology continues to advance, it is likely that we will see more and more medical schools and training programs incorporating VR into their training and learning practices.

As VR technology is becoming more accessible, it is solving real-world problems, in the engineering, education, workplace training, medical industries – to name a few. Taking this example from the medical industry, how could this inform the challenges you are having in your own company.  

Immersive technology has the power to engage and delight your users.