Tackling the topic of simulation and training equipment with this deployment of Focus On: took me back to my days as an infantry instructor in the Army Reserve. It was here that I had significant exposure to simulation-oriented training aids, and much like the options presented to hospitals and surgeons, they offered a host of pros and cons in selecting the right methodology.
One such approach offered variations of “dummy” weapons or munitions. In other words, the grenade looked and felt pretty close to the real thing, but there was no explosive inside. Similarly, I worked with cut-away weapons that allowed for seeing how it worked and fired, but felt very different than the actual rifle or machine gun that would be used during field training exercises or an actual mission.
We also had a form of laser tag which required wearing sensor-laden straps on our upper body and kevlar, or helmet, as well as specially adapted equipment that worked with blank rounds on our rifles and machine guns. This helped simulate firing at human or transportation targets and gave a long, annoying beep when that target had been neutralized.
My takeaway from these types of training aids were that they helped with my technical understanding, but the look and feel was just too different to really capture the essence of throwing a live hand grenade or firing the actual weapon. And as far as the laser tag (actually called MILES gear, i.e. Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) went, it was clunky to wear, often hindering the use of other critical equipment and usually the laser couldn’t even penetrate a leaf. So the “real-world” scenario was not accurately experienced.
A second approach was more along the virtual reality lines. Equipped with a special helmet and visor, as well as manipulated versions of our weapons, squads consisting of 8 – 12 soldiers would be taken in front of a huge computer screen and given several different scenarios in which to react. This was primarily focused on target acquisition and the prevention of fatalities from friendly fire. While this simulated approach offered greater perspective on certain challenges, i.e. reloading and reacting while explosions are going off and being fired upon, it still didn’t offer a truly “real” feel to things. The screens were animated and, again, the feel of the weapons and situation as a whole were far removed from an actual battle field.
My thoughts here are not to be overly critical of either method. After all, it’s impossible to simulate real-world battle conditions in a safe and controlled environment. While the focus and attention to detail were always prevalent, especially when we went to the field and fired live rounds, the realities of these situations meant safety would obviously take precedent over reality. At the end of the day, we felt like we trained as best we could in preparation for our mission.
Similarly, hospitals and surgeons are now faced with balancing which type of simulation approach works best for them. On one hand are what I’d describe as model-based training aids that allow for practicing everything from pre-operative infection control to the actual procedure, including opening and closing the surgical area. The benefits are obviously cost controls, quality simulation of the surgical area, use of the same instruments that would normally be required, as well as the ability of these items to be used almost anywhere.
Others are looking to enter the virtual reality realm. Using computer programs and other specialized devices, surgeons use adapted versions of instruments and are provided a simulated view of the surgical site within the body. It seems that just like in my military experience, this offers a better grasp of the difficulties of the surgery and requires greater focus while reinforcing an attention to detail. However, by most reports, the look and feel is still far removed from the real thing. Additionally, greater investments and logistical steps are required.
Again, this is not a knock on either simulation method. Rather, my goal is to solicit input from those of you who have to balance cost vs. accuracy vs. surgical preference vs. any other number of factors that go in to deciding which approach is best suited for you, your facility and your surgeons.
My e-mail is email@example.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic as to which works best for you, and why.
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