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How Important is Simulation in Medical Training?

by: Christopher Simmonds, VP Business Development & Marketing, Mimic Technologies

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While Mimic has been actively focused on simulation for robotic surgery over the past 15 years, I thought it would be interesting to see how simulation was valued for medical training, in general. While trawling through the internet I came across a study published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in 2011.  The survey was sponsored by a number of other societies including: IMSH, ASPE and AACN. While it is five years old, I do believe it probably still holds true.

The questionnaire was sent to 133 AAMC member medical schools and 263 teaching hospitals in January through March of 2010.  It is interesting to note that the use of simulation increased over time with medical students in both medical school or a teaching hospital environment.  While with residents the reverse pattern was seen to occur with more simulation taking place in the first years of residency than in the later years.

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These observations reflect what we have seen in many of the teaching hospitals using Mimic’s dV-Trainer. Residents are asked to develop psychomotor skills on the simulator before being allowed to migrate to the OR. Many institutions set a specific curriculum with proficiency levels that must be attained before the resident can sit down on the real robotic surgery console and start performing only very specific steps of a procedure.

An interesting part of this AAMC survey looked at how simulation is being used for education and assessment as well as part of a quality improvement program. What sparked my interest was the fact that the researchers differentiated between a number of skills that are very important to Mimic, such as psychomotor skills in addition to clinical thinking/decision making, team training and interpersonal communication skills.

Teaching hospitals were asked to indicate how simulation is used across the three domains of education, assessment, and quality improvement or research. All 64 respondents answered 
this question. Similar to medical schools, overall responses demonstrate simulation is largely used for educational purposes at 87 percent average usage across all competencies, less so for assessment at
 61 percent, and much less frequently for quality improvement and research at only 34 percent.

Teaching Hospital Use of Simulation by selected areas:

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In online questionnaires carried out by Mimic Technologies, we were able to see that over 90% of robotic surgeons had used Mimic simulation products either on Mimic’s dV-Trainer or on the da Vinici® Skills Simulator. This simulation training was primarily for the development of psychomotor skills as part of the surgeons’ initial training on robotics. In our experience fewer hospitals are using simulation for assessment, though we do know of some residency programs who include simulation in their recruitment process. We are also aware of institutions that have implemented a short curriculum that all surgeons need to pass annually to prove that they have the maintained their skill level for the surgical robot.

When it comes to quality improvement the picture is less clear. Given surgeons’ the time constraints, very few hospitals have initiated QI programs that leverage simulation to help improve the skill sets of lower performing surgeons.

As mentioned previously, this paper is five years old and I am sure the situation has continued to evolve. The implementation of the affordable care act is shining a spot light on patient outcomes and thus indirectly on variations in surgical performance. We can see that many institutions are trying to see how they can help improve the outcomes of their lower performers and we believe simulation will have a key role to play.