Trainee eye surgeons across South Australia will be able to practice delicate cataract surgery before they step into the operating theatre with the arrival of a new virtual reality simulator at Flinders Medical Centre.
The new $250,000 Eyesi VR Simulator allows trainee ophthalmologists to practice their techniques on a virtual head and eye socket using a computer-connected microscope and run through scenarios for routine and difficult surgeries as well as unexpected complications.
The simulator is the first in South Australia and was purchased thanks to generous philanthropic support from Sight For All, Dr Graham Fraenkel of Laser Vision SA, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and Flinders Foundation.
Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) Head of Ophthalmology, Associate Professor Richard Mills, said the simulator would give aspiring surgeons the opportunity to learn the world’s most common eye surgery, with around 15,000 operations performed in South Australia each year.
“The virtual reality simulator is a far less stressful way to learn procedures and gain expertise, and it will make it easier for surgeons to transition to operating on patients,” A/Prof Mills said.
“This equipment has a proven track record of improving surgeon performance and patient safety in the surgical training of ophthalmologists, and as a result, patients can know they are getting safer surgery and improved outcomes.
“Trainees also like the simulator because they can practice over and over again, which gives them more confidence to face the challenges of delicate ocular microsurgery.”
Each year about 20 ophthalmology trainee surgeons, aspiring trainees, and international medical graduates will benefit from time using the simulator.
The advantage of the simulator is that it can be used multiple times by surgeons of all skill levels without needing wet labs or using artificial eyes which are less realistic and destroyed after single use.
Chairman of Sight For All, and 2020 Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke, said enhancing the surgical skills of ophthalmology trainees was expected to result in fewer complications, increased capacity for surgery and reduced waiting times for South Australians awaiting cataract surgery.
“These are highly complicated micro-surgeries, and although complication rates are low (around five to six per cent), trials of the simulator have recorded a reduction of complications when trainees are learning cataract surgery by 33 to 50 per cent,” Dr Muecke said.
“It’s reported that about 453,000 Australians are living with blindness or vision impairment... but 89 per cent of this vision loss is avoidable.
“Blindness and vision impairment impacts individuals at a personal, economic and social level, and through having good vision, participation in daily activities such as education and employment can be improved.”
A/Prof Mills said it wasn’t just trainee surgeons who would benefit from the simulator’s arrival.
“It will also be very valuable in upskilling senior surgeons, and we’re looking at the possibility of running courses to train overseas doctors in developing countries which will have huge benefits in helping to restore the sight of more people who need it right around the world,” he said.