isometric illustration of a robotically assisted surgery
June 6, 2022 · 11 min read

VR is the Best Training Method For Mastering Robotic Assisted Surgery

Robotically assisted surgeries (RAS) have advanced significantly in the 37 years since Dr. Yik San Kwoh first programmed a Unimation Puma 200 to place a probe inside the human brain. With over 7.2 million robotic surgeries performed in 67 countries worldwide , and a success rate nearing 100% , it is clear that surgical robots are here to stay. The challenge for many surgeons have been getting opportunities to learn how to use robotically assisted surgical devices. VR training programs are making it possible for surgeons to learn how to use these invaluable machines

The growth of companies producing surgical robots has risen steadily over the past 14 years and the sheer number of robots in the field have exploded into nearly every medical specialty from cardiology to orthopedics and oncology to neurology. Because of the substantial benefits RAS can provide to both the surgeon and the patient in terms of shorter surgical times and greater accuracy, billions have been invested to increase the capability and availability of surgical robots.

As RAS innovation has steeply increased, the cost associated with manufacturing and maintaining these highly capable machines has decreased. Now that robots in the O.R. have become common tools in many hospitals and surgical centers, the problem is less about a shortage of surgical robots, but having enough surgeons with the proper training to use them.

The most popular surgical robot is the da Vinci from Innovative Surgical Inc. It weighs in at 800lbs, costs $2 million, requires between 30 and 100 hours of training before a surgeon can be considered proficient. Most surgical robots include an onboard training program that allows surgeons to practice their skills in simulation mode, but given that these machines are far from portable and because the hospitals and surgery centers that house these machines would rather these machines be used in performing actual surgery instead of being used as a multi-million dollar training simulator, it can be difficult to log training time as surgeon.

surgeons using the da vinci surgical robot
Intuitive Medical has been producing medical robots since 2000

RAS is an ideal case where surgical VR simulations can provide a cost effective and highly functional training solution. Commonly available VR headsets running a well designed simulation training program makes it possible for surgeons to practice their skills and gain RAS proficiency anytime they have time to practice and can train anywhere, even from home. At $300 per headset and a carry weight of ~7lbs, it’s amazing how well a VR headset can mimic all the controls and interface as well as the pathology and surgical procedure involved with robotic assisted surgery.

The potential opportunities and cost savings for a company like Medtronic that has several RAS products spanning multiple medical specialties, is substantial. Their Mazor X Stealth robot combines extremely powerful pre-operative and intra-operative planning with precise robotic guidance to determine optimal implant trajectories. A VR training program can allow surgeons to explore all of the software features, an implant customization options to make their RAS procedures in the real world operating room more optimized and predictable.

But Medtronic also has the Hugo RAS, a modular, scalable robot that can be modified for use in a wide range of medical procedures. A single VR headset can be loaded with every use case, and every configuration allowing surgeons to explore well beyond a single robotic configuration. From a sales standpoint, the value VR can bring to the Hugo RAS is explosive.

One single VR headset provides more than enough capability to not only allow surgeons to explore their entire range of surgical robots but also explore the rest of their instrumentation and surgical devices well beyond RAS and they could even be made to automatically regionalize, meaning a surgeon in London will only be interacting with products with regulatory approval based on her location whereas a surgeon in Minneapolis is accessing product demos and training programs approved by the FDA.

Beyond the training and sales capabilities, a VR surgical simulation can also be used to record user proficiency within a learning management system (LMS) to maintain a growing list of validated surgeons capable of properly performing various RAS. As new variations, capabilities, and versions of the robot become available, sale reps can join these surgeons remotely in the virtual operating room to demonstrate new features and products. At a tiny fraction of the cost of shipping a new surgical robot for demonstration purposes, a VR headset can deliver both a training and sales experience gives the surgeon and manufacturer significantly better access to each other than whenever the surgeon has time.

A VR training simulation can become an invaluable tool for a surgical robot manufacturer by increasing their ability to perform product demonstrations without cutting into their product inventory. They may also save a lot of money using VR because shipping surgical robot demo units them back and forth is not only expensive, but also risky because these sensitive robots are easy to damage in the shipping process. One of our clients were spending $5000 to ship a RAS unit to a neighboring city now spend $22 to overnight headsets to clients across the country. Another of our clients only had 3 demonstration robots found they could scale their sales operation to 300 in just a few months.

VR can also save our clients a lot of time in a lot of ways. Because sales reps can meet surgeons in a virtual surgery remotely, travel time beyond shipping headsets is eliminated. This makes it possible for a single sales rep to join 10 times the number of customers in live surgical demonstrations in less time than a single demo without even leaving home. Once a VR surgical simulation program has been developed, it can be easily distributed to remote headsets in a matter of minutes. Many of our clients have found that a growing number of their customers already own headsets and many surgeons are actively looking for VR training programs. When our clients choose to release their surgical training program in our Wraithmatrix network, surgeons may access the simulation themselves and our clients are notified whenever an applicable surgeon is engaged in their VR training program. This makes it possible for sales reps to join those surgeons in VR and make a connection at the very first moment they show interest in the products and surgical procedure.

If you’d like to learn how a VR training simulator can help support your customers and expand the reach or your RAS salesforce, contact us for a demonstration of surgical VR platform. We’ll how you how Ghost Medical can simulate your robot and place it in the hands of thousands of surgeons in a matter of months.

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