Doctor training system uses X-Box technology in Irish-led breakthrough

GAMING technology used in popular Playstation and X-Box games is being used to train surgeons.

The hi-tech training simulator — the first of its kind in the world — has been devised by a European research team led by Irish consultant, Professor George Shorten.

The system recreates the same tensions and sensations felt by a doctor as if they were inserting a needle into a patient to administer a spinal anaesthetic.

The procedure involves injecting a small amount of local anaesthetic through a needle inserted between the spinal vertebrae.

The anaesthetic blocks sensations below the point of injection allowing surgeons perform a range of surgeries on the lower part of the abdomen, including a caesarean section.

Current training is theoretical based, involving observation and practice under supervision.

However the new MedCAP (Medical Competence Assessment Procedure) system has adapted a theory used in computer gaming — the competence-based knowledge space theory — and applied it to the simulator to test a doctor’s skills.

It uses 3D goggles and haptic technology — which accurately recreates the touch and feel of surgical procedures — and mathematical formulae to assess the doctor’s performance at every step in the procedure.

It also provides detailed, personalised feedback to doctors as they learn the procedure.

MedCAP is the first time this approach has been used in the world of medical learning.

The system was developed by a team led by Professor Shorten, a consultant anaesthetist in the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine at Cork University Hospital (CUH).

The team also comprises members from the University of Graz in Austria, the Interaction Design Centre at the University of Limerick, the University of Pecs in Hungary, and Medic Vision, a British-based company which develops simulators for medicine.

The system was unveiled in Dublin yesterday. Prof Shorten said it has the potential to improve the way that medical students and doctors learn and are assessed.

“By providing ‘intelligent’ and detailed feedback to learners as they practice a procedure in a simulated setting, a footprint of their competence is created,” he said.

“This will provide him or her with a detailed map to future learning.

“With practice over time, the learner progressively focuses on areas of weakness accelerating progress up the learning curve. This substantial experience can be acquired before a learner undertakes the procedure on a patient.”

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association said patients will ultimately benefit. “Firstly they are not put at risk as anaesthetists are trained on this sophisticated training simulator thereby being able to demonstrate their competencies in this complex spinal procedure,” he said.

“There must be further applications from this training technology.

“It will require all stakeholders to work together and improve patient safety by exploring these training possibilities.”


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