Learning curves and impact of previous operative experience on performance on a virtual reality simulator to test laparoscopic surgical skills

Teodor P Grantcharov, Linda Bardram, Peter Funch-Jensen, Jacob Rosenberg
American Journal of Surgery 2003, 185 (2): 146-9

BACKGROUND: The study was carried out to analyze the learning rate for laparoscopic skills on a virtual reality training system and to establish whether the simulator was able to differentiate between surgeons with different laparoscopic experience.

METHODS: Forty-one surgeons were divided into three groups according to their experience in laparoscopic surgery: masters (group 1, performed more than 100 cholecystectomies), intermediates (group 2, between 15 and 80 cholecystectomies), and beginners (group 3, fewer than 10 cholecystectomies) were included in the study. The participants were tested on the Minimally Invasive Surgical Trainer-Virtual Reality (MIST-VR) 10 consecutive times within a 1-month period. Assessment of laparoscopic skills included time, errors, and economy of hand movement, measured by the simulator.

RESULTS: The learning curves regarding time reached plateau after the second repetition for group 1, the fifth repetition for group 2, and the seventh repetition for group 3 (Friedman's tests P <0.05). Experienced surgeons did not improve their error or economy of movement scores (Friedman's tests, P >0.2) indicating the absence of a learning curve for these parameters. Group 2 error scores reached plateau after the first repetition, and group 3 after the fifth repetition. Group 2 improved their economy of movement score up to the third repetition and group 3 up to the sixth repetition (Friedman's tests, P <0.05). Experienced surgeons (group 1) demonstrated best performance parameters, followed by group 2 and group 3 (Mann-Whitney test P <0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Different learning curves existed for surgeons with different laparoscopic background. The familiarization rate on the simulator was proportional to the operative experience of the surgeons. Experienced surgeons demonstrated best laparoscopic performance on the simulator, followed by those with intermediate experience and the beginners. These differences indicate that the scoring system of MIST-VR is sensitive and specific to measuring skills relevant for laparoscopic surgery.

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