Although medical VR simulators became commercially available in the late 1990s, data concerning their efficacy was lacking. In 2002, Seymour et al. published the results of the first double-blind experiment comparing training via the traditional apprenticeship approach and training with a VR simulator, the MIST® VR system, which uses abstract representations of laparoscopic tasks to
train the fundamental psychomotor skills needed to perform the procedures. Their results showed that residents who trained on the simulator were able to perform a gall bladder removal on actual patients in 29% less time and were five times less likely to injure the gall bladder or burn nontarget tissue than were residents trained according to the traditional method.
More recently, Gallagher and Cates (2004a) reported their experience with a simulator for a surgical procedure used to treat patients with plaque buildup in the carotid artery. Because the risk of stroke is extremely high for patients with this condition, a procedure was developed in which a wire stent is placed in the artery to improve blood flow. This procedure is both complicated and risky, and very few cardiologists can perform it. Further, it is not reimbursable through insurance companies.
Researchers at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology developed the VIST® Vascular Interventional System for Training (now produced by Mentice AB of Gothenburg, Sweden) to provide training on the stent placement procedure. This VR system uses physical models of the catheters and the vascular system to simulate the appearance and physiological dynamics depicted on the cardiologist’s X-ray display. The simulator also records a variety of performance metrics that can be used to assess skill acquisition and competency.
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Interest in simulators for training has a long history within the
human factors profession. In fact, articles addressing driving simulation and simulated displays for vigilance monitoring began
appearing in the pages of Human Factors in the early 1960s. Since
then, more than 400 articles on simulation topics such as flight, air traffic control, command and control, driving, power plant operation, and simulator networking have appeared in Human Factors, Ergonomics in Design, and the annual meeting proceedings (see also Swezey & Andrews, 2001).
In the early 1970s, interest in medical issues also began to be
reflected in the pages of Human Factors. A formal technical group
called Medical Systems and Rehabilitation was formed in 1992
(now called the Health Care Technical Group). Today, more than
100 articles can be found in our literature addressing diagnoses,
medical devices, errors, procedures, and patient safety.