Simulation in a virtual combat environment puts surgical skills to the test

October 16, 2006

SANTA MONICA, CA - Traditional medical training may not adequately prepare doctors in times of war. A unique study by human factors/ergonomics researchers in Norfolk, Virginia, concluded that virtual reality-based simulators can provide a safe venue for training military medical personnel in high-stress, high-workload conditions such as combat. The researchers will present their results on Friday, October 20, 2006, at the HFES 50th Annual Meeting at the Hilton San Francisco Hotel, which takes place October 16-20.

Simulations provide safe and controlled environments, immediate performance feedback, and practice for skills under unique or dangerous conditions. Virtual environments have proven to be effective in training dismounted soldiers and military checkpoint guards, for example.

In this study, 15 medical students had to perform an emergency chest tube thoracostomy - incision and insertion of a tube in the chest to permit fluid to drain - on a mannequin in a CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) while surrounded by visual and auditory depictions of gunfire, explosions, and a virtual sniper. They performed the surgery under both daytime and nighttime combat conditions. When tested again four months later, they demonstrated that they retained the necessary skills for the procedure.

The students' completion times demonstrated that they could perform the surgery efficiently, but the quality of their work suffered. Those who performed the procedure faster were more susceptible to "sniper" fire. Furthermore, stress created by the simulated environment may have caused some students to engage in inappropriate and dangerous behavior that would likely result in their being killed in a real combat situation.

This study is possibly the first to test performance with a standard mannequin-based medical simulator within a fully immersive virtual environment.
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To obtain a press copy of "Surgical Skill Performance Under Combat Conditions in a Virtual Environment" by Elizabeth A. Schmidt, Mark W. Scerbo, and colleagues, or a press pass for the HFES 50th Annual Meeting, please contact HFES Communications Director Lois Smith (lois@hfes.org, 310/394-1811). The entire meeting program may be viewed at http://www.hfes.org/Web/HFESMeetings/06annualmeeting.html.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in September 2007, is a multidisciplinary professional association of more than 4,500 persons in the United States and throughout the world. Its members include psychologists and other scientists, designers, and engineers, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

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