Simulator-Based Assessment of Haptic Surgical Skill: A Comparative Study

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The aim of this study was to examine if the forces applied by users of a haptic simulator could be used to distinguish expert surgeons from novices. Seven surgeons with significant operating room expertise and 9 novices with no surgical experience participated in this study. The experimental task comprised exploring 4 virtual materials with the haptic device and learning the precise forces required to compress the materials to various depths. The virtual materials differed in their stiffness and force-displacement profiles. The results revealed that for nonlinear virtual materials, surgeons applied significantly greater magnitudes of force than novices. Furthermore, for the softer nonlinear and linear materials, surgeons were significantly more accurate in reproducing forces than novices. The results of this study suggest that the magnitudes of force measured using haptic simulators may be used to objectively differentiate experts’ haptic skill from that of novices. This knowledge can inform the design of virtual reality surgical simulators and lead to the future incorporation of haptic skills training in medical school curricula.

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