(RxWiki News) Cataract surgery is one of the most common eye operations performed, with 1.5 million patients receiving the procedure each year.
However, the surgery is complex, and training residents can prove challenging.
Before performing phacoemulsification cataract surgery, in which an ultrasonic device is used to break up and remove a cloudy lens to restore vision, in humans for the first time, residents usually practice in wet labs and on simulators to improve motor skills.
"Get regular eye exams to detect cataracts early."
In an effort to bridge the gap between labs and simulators, an online training tool called the Cataract Master has been unveiled to improve precision and supplement skills before performing the procedure on patients.
John I. Loewenstein, MD, co-developer and an ophthalmologist with the Mass Eye & Ear Infirmary, said that the Cataract Master aims to minimize clinical risk, while giving residents and practicing ophthalmologists the most authentic cataract surgical experience available outside of the operating room.
"The goal is to boost skills and confidence, to better prepare residents for the surgical experience, and to raise the quality of patient care everywhere," Dr. Loewenstein said.
It took developer about 10 years to develop the computer-based simulator, which is based on realistic potential surgical situations. While not the first simulation technology developed, creators have said that the new self-guided and self-correcting tool takes into account hundreds of decision-making requirements that can arise during the surgery.
The simulator also includes videos of actual surgeries, realistic animations and expert discussions of various phases of the procedure.
It also provides immediate feedback if users make a serious error so that they can avoid making the same mistake again.
The simulator was tested through a randomized trial at eight residency programs that compared the Cataract Master to traditional teaching tools.
The study, published in journal Ophthalmology in February 2010 indicated that residents preferred the program to more traditional learning methods.
The simulator requires a subscription that costs $500 a year for individuals, though the program also may be offered through various residency programs. Free trials also are available.
"Improved technology in training will certainly be of benefit," noted Dr. Christopher Quinn, an optometrist with Omni Eye Associates.
"Cataract surgery is a complex surgical procedure and surgical volume has been related to reduced complications and improved patient outcomes. Resident performed surgery is associated with higher risk of complications, so any virtual solution that allows surgical experience without putting actual patients at risk is a welcome addition."
Funding for development of the Cataract Master was provided by the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund, Norman Knight, the U.S. Army and the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology.