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MEDICAL PERSONNEL TEST THEIR METTLE ON VIRTUAL BATTLEFIELD

As terror threats rise and the war in Iraq continues, medical personnel are seeking ways to prepare themselves for the possibility of needing to save a life not in a hospital room, but on the battlefield. Mark Scerbo, an Old Dominion University psychology professor, is examining ways that modeling and simulation technology can be applied to train for such situations.

The work is part of a collaborative project with ODU's Virginia Modeling Analysis and Simulation Center and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), which is funded in part by $4 million from the Naval Health Research Center.

Amid gunfire, explosions and sniper fire in both daylight and nighttime conditions, more than 24 EVMS medical students and residents performed surgical procedures on a mannequin-based simulator during test trials in March and August at ODU's virtual reality CAVE.

"The findings from this initial study show that virtual environments can provide a safe environment for military medical personnel to train for dangerous duty," said Scerbo.

While the students found their medical school training to be excellent, the skills that helped them succeed in a hospital environment, such as the ability to ignore chaotic surroundings, could get them killed on the battlefield. The ODU/EVMS project is unique, according to Scerbo, because it represents the first time that two different forms of simulation technology have been used together to study the application of surgical skills.

"We now have a 'laboratory' to study the practice of medicine without using actual patients or animals. More important, by using the CAVE virtual environment we can recreate an unlimited number of environmental conditions and study their potential impact on surgical performance--again, without putting patients at risk," he said.

Scerbo completed phase one of the study in March. During that phase, 15 medical students performed a tube thoracostomy on a mannequin-based simulator in a fully immersed CAVE virtual environment, which featured a combat simulation complete with gunfire, explosions, and a virtual sniper under both daylight and nighttime conditions.

"Taken together, the results suggest that the surgical skills acquired by students in a traditional medical school setting may be compromised when the students are called upon to perform them under hazardous conditions," said Scerbo.

He will now analyze whether the students did better during the second trial in August and how they compared with the residents, who have more hospital experience. Scerbo will present his findings Aug. 16-18 at the NATO Symposium on Combat Casualty Care in Ground Based Tactical Situations: Trauma Technology and Emergency Medical Procedures, in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

This article was posted on: August 3, 2004

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