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Ms Alison Barnet, Dr Fernando Bello, Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Dr Roger Kneebone, Mr Stephen Marchington, Dr Debra Nestel and Ms Natalia Ognjenovic, Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology, Imperial College London

Bringing simulation to life to learn the skills of surgery

As training time for surgeons decreases, researchers from Imperial College London have developed simulation and assessment technology to improve training without risk to patients.

“Simulation offers benefits beyond just technical training. It also improves communication with patients and team, decision making and professionalism, which are vital but often overlooked skills for a good surgeon,” explains Dr Roger Kneebone from Imperial College London. “Our simulation unites these abilities to provide a realistic experience for trainees and ensure they are ready for the operating theatre.”

Patient focused simulation combines simulated body parts and advanced computer simulations with professional actors taking the role of the patient. Synchronised video and hand motion analysis united with computer-based assessment and feedback technology provide a full view of the surgeon’s abilities and assess where improvement is needed. Students receive computer feedback, and the actor playing a conscious patient asks questions during the procedure. Trainees then watch video footage to see where improvement is needed and provide a history of training.

As more ‘keyhole surgery’ procedures are being carried out, simulation will help surgeons practise these highly skilled procedures before performing on real patients. The research team is also extending the simulations to include complex operations, emergency situations and patient specific simulation, where surgeons use imaging scans and create a simulation of an individual patient’s anatomy. This will allow for difficult surgery to be prepared for in advance.