MetroHealth introduced a new surgery simulation tool that allows surgeons and students to feel the resistance of skin and bone as they pierce a virtual needle into the body. The tool, known as MissionRehersal, was created by Dr. Ben Roitberg and ImmersiveTouch Inc. 

Roitberg, who is chair of neurosurgery at MetroHealth, said it all started in 2005. He was in Chicago at the University of Illinois and a strong supporter of the school’s engineering program. He was introduced to ImmersiveTouch there, and he began to work on the virtual reality technology for surgeons to practice complex operations in a 3-D environment.

He then brought the program and technology with him to the University of Chicago, where he worked from 2008 to 2016. 

“Finally, in 2016, I brought an advanced version of this here to MetroHealth and it is the only such program in Cleveland,” he said. “Others have slightly different systems, but ours is the most advanced because ImmersiveTouch has the most advanced system in the world for neurosurgery. It allows us to train people to do a variety of complex procedures and it includes visualization and tracking of the head so you can look at the model, and we can actually interact with the tissue.”

Roitberg said when users touch tissue or interact with a bone or something within the virtual environment, they will feel a haptic feedback. He noted this feature of a tactile response doesn’t exist currently in other systems, at least to the quality level within MissionRehersal.

The training of medical residents in surgery usually takes hours of classes and hands-on experience using cadavers and animals – but Roitberg said with the use of MissionRehersal, training for surgery can be done in one to two hours. 

“It can be done in a short enough time so that the surgeon can rehearse on the model just before the actual surgery takes place,” he said. “The advantage here is, just like with teaching, you can actually cut the tissue and bone away and see that. It’s also a lot easier and ethical.”

As the medical industry continues to make technological strides, Roitberg said additions like MissionRehersal pushes the industry to complete safety on the operating table.

“I think that the main thing is that, over the years, the demands and requirements for surgeons have changed,” he said. “The requirement for high levels of safety has been a continuous change since the beginning of surgery itself. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was common for patients to die on the table. Now, it’s not like that. Also, having a young surgeon doesn’t mean the patient should accept poor outcomes. This is the next natural step. Error is not acceptable anymore. It’s all about the evolution of surgery.”

According to Roitberg, the reason why MetroHealth received the technology was that he himself decided to come to the hospital. But the implementation and success of MissionRehersal can be directly attributed to the hospital’s readiness to try new technologies. 

“I was impressed by Metro when I first came here and as I’ve been here for almost a year, I’m even more impressed,” he said. “To their credit, (MetroHealth) accepted and embraced the vision I had right away. I think Metro, in that way, is quick on its feet. If you can connect it to the patient and if that provides a better service, they are willing to embrace it. It’s just an amazing group of people.” 

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