Background: Artificial reality technologies are currently being explored as potential options to improve surgical education. Previous studies have primarily examined the efficacy of artificial reality in laparoscopic procedures, but to our knowledge, none have been performed in orthopaedically relevant procedures such as intramedullary tibial nailing, which calls for more versatile large-scale movements.
Questions/purposes: Does a virtual reality simulator with or without a standard technique guide result in (1) a higher proportion of participants who completed the insertion of an intramedullary tibial nail in a synthetic bones model and (2) greater procedural accuracy than does training with a technique guide alone?
Methods: Twenty-five first- and second-year medical students without prior exposure to intramedullary tibial nail insertion were recruited. Participants were randomly assigned to the technique guide control group (n = 8), the virtual reality group (n = 8), or the virtual reality and technique guide group (n = 9). The technique guide was adapted from a commercially available technique guide, which participants in the assigned groups could use to prepare as much as desired. The virtual reality simulation was based on the same procedure, and we used a commercially available virtual reality simulator that we purchased for this task. Participants in the virtual reality experimental groups completed the simulation on three separate sessions, at a set interval of 3 to 4 days apart. After 10 to 14 days of preparation, all participants attempted to insert an intramedullary nail into an intact, compact bone-model tibia that lacked surrounding soft tissue. Participants were given written hints if requested, but no other assistance was given. A procedure was considered complete if the nail and screw were properly placed. Procedural accuracy was defined as the number of incorrect steps normalized out of the 16 possible performed. After the procedure, one orthopaedic surgeon assessed a blinded video of the participant performing it so the assessor could not recognize the individual or that individual's gender. Additionally, the assessor was unaware of which group each participant had been randomized to during the evaluation.
Results: A higher proportion of participants in the virtual reality group (6 of 8) and the virtual reality and technique guide group (7 of 9) completed the intramedullary nail than did participants in the technique guide group (2 of 8; p = 0.01). There was no difference in completion between the virtual reality groups (p = 0.89). Participants in the virtual reality and virtual reality and technique guide had fewer normalized incorrect steps than did participants in the technique guide group (3.2 ± 0.1 of 16 and 3.1 ± 0.1 of 16 versus 5.7 ± 0.2 of 16, respectively; p = 0.02 for comparisons of virtual reality groups to technique guide, p = 0.63 between the virtual reality group).
Conclusions: Virtual reality increased both procedural accuracy and the completion proportion compared with a technique guide in medical students. Based on our findings, virtual reality may help residents learn the procedural workflow and movements required to perform surgical procedures. Future studies should examine how and when exactly the technology can be applied to residencies and its impact on residents.
Level of evidence: Level I, therapeutic study.