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VR surgery training a boost to other specialized medical training

The growth in virtual reality training for surgeons is also helping physicians in specialties beyond the surgery room.
By admin
Apr 11, 2022, 11:26 AM

The global virtual reality (VR) medical market is expected to grow by 31% between 2021 and 2028 to be worth close to $4 billion.  This projected growth is driven by the increasing use of VR in surgical training and patient treatment, rapid technological advancements in VR headsets, and growing application of VR in medical education, according to Emergen Research.

The largest share of market growth is expected to take place in North America, where VR for physician training grew rapidly over the past few years due in large part to the improvements in technology. Today’s realistic, virtual immersion makes it possible for doctors to simulate intricate procedures, including surgery, without even touching a human body. In addition, the equipment required to run this technology is now more portable—an individual can easily transport a VR headset and controller in a bag or keep it stored in a desk drawer.

The pandemic’s role in advancing virtual training adoption

This technology got a big boost during the pandemic, as COVID restrictions prevented physician travel to educational meetings and courses. The pandemic restrictions limited the amount scheduled elective orthopedic surgery cases, according to Dr. Peter D. Fabricant, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City, so virtual surgeries ensured trainees and doctors continued to hone their skills.

Even with surgery schedules returning to pre-pandemic levels, the value of VR in medical surgery provides practice for complicated procedures – and the latest procedure developments – in a virtual world before trying them out on live patients. Fabricant notes that at HSS, trainees in the medical field often keep irregular hours so access to live courses and training modules are helpful as well.

“Due to greater restrictions on resident duty hours, it limits their exposure to high case volumes, so virtual training allows for preparation at home, outside of the hospital,” Fabricant said.  

Like other machines that learn and adapt, VR platforms can track the trainee’s movements and introduce new scenarios based on the person’s success. For example, the VR program can introduce intraoperative complications to increase the difficultly of the surgery in order to better prepare the student for what may happen during a real-life procedure. 

“It’s much more dynamic than reading text instructions or watching a prerecorded video,” Fabricant said. 

VR equipment has the added bonus of potentially cutting costs for medical facilities because the same technology equipment can be used over and over for different procedure simulations. 

VR surgery training has some real-world limitations

Like all technology, VR for physician training still has its drawbacks. While the images look life-like, the current technology does not allow the user to actually feel a tactile response of implants or instrumentation, or for the ability to perform soft tissue handling during a surgery. However by using virtual training methods to become more familiar with procedural steps, trainees can then learn those other techniques (eg. soft tissue handling) in live surgery because they have already mastered the other parts of a procedure.

Fabricant sees a place for the virtual training platform in most physician specialties, well beyond surgery. For example, it can be used to train basic or advanced life support algorithms or scenarios which require clinicians to respond to changes in a patient’s status.

Moving forward, Fabricant expects the use of VR to expand its use within the medical field as a tool for accreditation and certification programs. In addition, VR can be used as a measurement tool to track the progress of trainees and residents. Therefore, if the trainee reaches a certain threshold in virtual training, then they are cleared to participate in live surgery. Or as a tool for practicing surgeons to review procedures and implants in anticipation of performing live cases. 


Jacqueline Renfrow is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on and writing about the intersection of healthcare, education, and retail with technology. Living just outside of Washington, DC, she enjoys exploring all that the nation’s capital has to offer with her husband and three children in tow.

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