Virtual Interactive Surgical Skills Classroom: A Parallel-group, Non-inferiority, Adjudicator-blinded, Randomised Controlled Trial (VIRTUAL)

J Surg Educ. 2021 Nov 29;S1931-7204(21)00321-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2021.11.004. Online ahead of print.


Objective: This study evaluated the efficacy of virtual classroom training (VCT) in comparison to face-to-face training (FFT) and non-interactive computer-based learning (CBL) for basic surgical skills training.

Design: This was a parallel-group, non-inferiority, prospective randomised controlled trial with three intervention groups conducted in 2021. There were three intervention groups with allocation ratio 1:1:1. Outcome adjudicators were blinded to intervention assignment. Interventions consisted of 90-minute training sessions. VCT was delivered via the BARCO weConnect platform, FFT was provided in-person by expert instructors and CBL was carried out by participants independently. The primary outcome was post-intervention Objective Structured Assessment of Technical Skills score, adjudicated by two experts and adjusted for baseline proficiency. The assessed task was to place three interrupted sutures with hand-tied knots.

Setting: This multicentre study recruited from five medical schools in London.

Participants: Inclusion criteria were medical student status and access to a personal computer and smartphone. One hundred fifty-nine eligible individuals applied online. Seventy-two participants were randomly selected and stratified by subjective and objective suturing experience prior to permuted block randomization.

Results: Twenty-four participants were allocated to each intervention, all were analysed per-protocol. The sample was 65.3% female with mean age 21.3 (SD 2.1). VCT was non-inferior to FFT (adjusted difference 0.44, 95% CI: -0.54 to 1.75, delta 0.675), VCT was superior to CBL (adjusted difference 1.69, 95% CI: 0.41-2.96) and FFT was superior to CBL (adjusted difference 1.25, 95% CI: 0.20-2.29). The costs per-attendee associated with VCT, FFT and CBL were £22.15, £39.69 and £16.33 respectively. Instructor hours used per student for VCT and FFT were 0.25 and 0.75, respectively.

Conclusions: VCT provides greater accessibility and resource efficiency compared to FFT, with similar educational benefit. VCT has the potential to improve global availability and accessibility of surgical skills training.

Keywords: Education; Proficiency; Skills; Telemedicine; Training; Virtual classroom.