Global R&D trends in Surgical & Intervention Simulation

Global R&D trends in Surgical & Intervention Simulation 1024 684 Edu Soler

Most aspects of medicine have historically been learned in an apprenticeship model by means of observation, imitation, and instruction. This paradigm is rapidly changing towards the adoption of medical simulation. This is due to the irruption of more technology in surgeries and due to legal maturation in the field. The following report captures the most interesting data of the field.

Commonly regarded essential competencies include manual dexterity, familiarity with high-tech equipment, sound professional judgment, and the ability to integrate technical skills with clinical practices. However, the incongruity between evidence-based recommendations and real-world practice highlights the inadequacy of the preceptored medical education tradition. Consequently, there has been a shift in the method of medical education towards experiential ('hands-on') medical learning (1)

Surgical simulation enhances surgical skills by allowing repeated practice and to maintain an acquired level of competence. Current high fidelity simulators offer the opportunity for safe, repeated practice and objective measurement of performance. Furthermore, it is a more efficient and cost-effective modality that poses no risk to patients and avoids many ethical and legal complications. 

Although some form of simulation has existed for decades in surgical training, we are truly in the infancy stages of incorporating simulation into residency education. Beginning in July 2008, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Residency Review Committee for Surgery mandated that all surgery residency programs incorporate simulation within the curriculum of their program. Even surgical simulation adoption is highly increasing in hospitals, many discussions remain open about whether competencies acquired in the sim lab translates to clinical competence (2).

Also, Virtual Reality (VR), or Virtual Environments (VE), -based simulators are rapidly becoming an integral part of surgical training and skills assessment.

Over the last twenty-five years, there has been a strong movement towards changing the traditional approaches to surgical training. One of the major drivers for the development of surgical simulation is the advent of new surgical practices such as interventional radiology and MIS techniques. Example: bronchoscopy and laparoscopy.

Surgical Simulation Ultrasound Simulation
Laparoscopic Surgical Simulators Anesthesia 
Arthroscopic Surgical Simulators Cardiology
Cardiovascular Simulators Emergency medicine
Obstetrics and Gynecology Simulators Intensive Care Unit
Orthopedic Simulators OB / GYN
Spine Simulators  Radiology
Endovascular Simulators  Others (Urology, General Nursing, Pediatrics)

The complexity of instrument controls, restricted vision and mobility, difficult hand-eye coordination, unnatural perceptual-motor relationships, and the lack of tactile perception requires a high degree of manual dexterity and coordination from the operator. Consequently, much attention has been directed to new training methods such as surgical simulators for acquiring these skills (4).

Operating theater apprenticeship

Conventional surgical training is based on the apprenticeship model. Under the scrutiny of experienced instructors, surgical trainees learn by observing, then gradually performing specific procedures inside the operating theater. Although the operating theater is a basic element of surgical training, it is becoming less effective due to several factors. First, trainees are exposed to the heterogeneous distribution of procedures depending on the flow of patients; it is also time consuming and costly. Moreover, operating theater-based training can constitute a potential risk to patients due to the inevitable distraction while training on complex or advanced procedures. (1)

Animals and Cadavers

Students traditionally learn the basics of surgery on live lab animals. For example, the use of surgical instruments begins with anatomical dissections and physiological experiments. Anesthetized animals, typically pigs or rats, have long been a part of the curriculum in medical schools. However, this training modality is becoming increasingly unacceptable due to obvious ethical, legallyand human concerns. It is not only because of the tendency towards avoiding animal sacrifices for teaching purposes, but also because some infectious diseases can be transmitted from animals to trainees. Moreover, from a technical point of view, the anatomy of animals and human beings are different, and the cost associated with preserving and disposing of used models is high (1).

The most realistic, high-fidelity model remains a human corpse. Cadaver costs fall into a modest price range, relative to other high-fidelity synthetic models (2).

Synthetic Models - task trainers

Synthetic models provide a low-risk training opportunity. Many models resembling parts of the human anatomy with complexity ranging from bone structures to fully integrated models are available. In practice, training with synthetic models is usually used during the preliminary stages of surgical education. This modality, however, has limited realism and it is also difficult and costly to acquire and maintain a large number of different cases (1).

When considering the cost of simulation, task trainers may provide an economically viable alternative to high-fidelity and high-cost models. There are some examples in the literature showing the viability of simulation models for acquiring performing skills. As an example, Helder and collaborators demonstrated to improve aortic anastomosis in medical students and residents by using a low-cost aotic anastomosis model ($ 22.50 / unit), with pretest and posttest skills performed on a high-fidelity model (6).

Computer Based training

One of the established training methods is based on interactive multimedia applications where the trainee interacts visually with the system in order to learn the necessary steps involved in certain surgical procedures. Nevertheless, it is still inadequate for providing effective training on basic surgical skills. This is largely due to the difficulty of imitating surgical procedures by using the Two-Dimensional (2D) CBT systems that have limited immersion, physical control, and interaction (1).

Additive manufacturing and 3D scanning are contributing significantly to the advancement of computer-based training. Specifically, surgical simulation is becoming a key technology for surgery planning and improving surgical outcomes. Also, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are emerging technologies in healthcare education and, although there are still limited randomized studies comparing its impact with the standard methods, some authors already suggest the importance of these technologies in improving patients' quality of care.

In this analysis, it has been determined the different types of medical simulation companies. The medical training market has demonstrated to be big enough to consolidate large, medium, and small corporations, also distributors, and very specialized companies. The market can be classified according to the following parameters:

  • Medical procedure specialized companies: These ones are producing products for small amounts of clinical areas. For example, SimuVasc is just specialized in vascular procedures or Synbone is specialized in the production of bone models.
  • Generalists: These ones are producing products for all the clinical areas. They offer large portfolios of products with less focus on specialization.
  • Other approaches: These ones are producing products out of medical training or other approaches. For example, Medical X is specialized in military medical training, or Laerdal is specialized in experiential training.
  • Distributors: These ones are not producing simulators, they have licensing deals with producers to sell their products.
  • Digital specialized: These ones are incorporating digital technology instead of simulators. For example, Oxford Medical Simulations are specialized in VR or Intelligent Video Solutions are specialized in video platforms.

The scientific societies have a critical role in the application of medical simulation in healthcare. They serve as a resource for young professionals in their growth in medical education and administration. Here you can check the most relevant societies worldwide:

Logo Name Website URL
SESAM - Society in Europe for Simulation applied to medicine Society in Europe for Simulation Applied to Medicine (SESAM) link
Flasic logo horiz-01.png Latin American Federation of Clinical Simulation and Patient Safety (FLASIC) link
Canadian Network for Simulation in Healthcare (CNSH) link
Center for Medical Simulation Announces Senior Leadership Opening | Center for Medical Simulation Harvard Center for Medical Simulation link
The Society for Simulation in Healthcare Society of Simulation and Health Care link
Scandinavian Simulation Society link
Sessep Spanish Society of Clinical Simulation and Patient Safety (SESSEP) link
Publishing journal SCIMAGO h-index Website URL
SAGEJournals SAGE - Simulation / Simulation and Gaming  48 / 57 link
Planet TV Studios Presents the Society for Simulation in Healthcare on New Frontiers in Healthcare TV Series Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare 46 link
Clinical Simulation in Nursingg 36 link
BMJ's Simulation & Technology Enhanced Learning 7 link
Advances in Simulation - BMC part of Springer Nature - link


The global medical simulation market size was valued at $ 1,421.1 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $ 3,190.2 million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 14.6% from 2020 to 2027. 

The globals medical simulation market is segmented (on product & service) in: 

By product & service, the model-based segment generated maximum revenue in 2019, accounting for $ 727.47 million in 2019. The web-based simulation segment is expected to witness the highest CAGR of 15.2%. By fidelity, the low-fidelity simulators segment dominated the market in 2019 with $ 671.29 million. The high-fidelity segment is expected to witness the highest CAGR of 15.3% in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and LAMEA. North America accounts for the largest share in the global medical simulation market. Asia-Pacific is expected to witness the highest growth rate (4).



What is the economic cost of training a surgeon? Calhoon and colleagues addressed this question by sending cost analysis templates to program directors of 6 thoracic surgery residency programs the annual calculated cost was $ 483,000 per resident on average. These cost estimates for residency training do not fully account for the increased cost of OR time related to the involvement of a resident surgeon in a procedure. Cases with resident involvement (> 85% of 1030 Jabbour & Snyderman cases) averaged 60% to 65% more time than cases without a trainee. It has been argued that the increased time required to train surgeons does not increase the cost for the hospital directly, but rather is primarily a "cost" to the attending surgeon, as a missed opportunity cost for performing more operative procedures during the same amount of time. However, several studies have demonstrated significant added costs related to surgical trainee involvement (2).

Other hidden costs of training surgeons in the OR include surgical complications and additional morbidity from prolonged anesthesia. A surgical complication may require additional therapy, prolong hospitalization, and incur legal costs. Surgeries that extend beyond regular working hours increase labor costs (overtime) and have an opportunity cost for the surgeon and the hospital (2).

Source: Jabbour, N., & Snyderman, CH (2017). The economics of surgical simulation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 50 (5), 1029-1036.

While it is clear that healthcare simulation is key to reducing patient risk and accidental deaths, there is little information on the economic savings it brings to the Health System. Economic evaluation of simulation-based medical education will be decisive to demonstrate an improvement in trainee performance and health outcomes in order to justify investments (5).

Some of the most important simulation centers in Spain are mentioned below:


Center Center name Website URL
IDEhA Simulation Center link
Hebron Valley Vall d'Hebron Center for Advanced Clinical Simulation (VHiSCA) link
Valdecilla Virtual Hospital link
Simulation Classroom. La Paz University Hospital (Madrid) link
Clinical Simulation and Patient Safety Area. La Fe University and Polytechnic Hospital - Valencia link



Center Center Name Website URL
CISARC - International Center for Simulation and High Clinical Performance link
4DHEALTH - Innovation Simulation Center link
CMAT - Advanced Multifunctional Complex for Simulation and Technological Innovation link
Simulation center, Faculty of Medicine, University of Navarra link
Francisco de Vitoria University Simulation Center (Madrid) link
European University logo Simulated hospital. European University of Madrid link SATSE-CIDEFIB. Center for Innovation and Development of Nursing and Physiotherapy of the Balearic Islands link
INIBIC Logo User Center Experimental Surgery Unit-Technological Training Center. laCoruña link

1.-Financial barriers

The scientific community agrees that the main limiting factors for the large-scale adaptation of surgical simulation in hospitals and teaching institutions are primarily due to the high cost of developing and maintaining this high-tech solution. This results from the lack of appropriate business model that motivates companies to develop surgical simulators along with the relatively small market size (1).

As we have explored, there may be an Opportunity for hospital systems, malpractice insurance companies, and even health insurance companies to invest heavily in surgical simulation, because all of these entities have the potential for financial savings by increasing the technical skills of surgeons and improving communication of surgical teams. Until this occurs, departments may consider using current funds earmarked for didactic purposes and redirecting them to simulation education. Incentives could be given for faculty who convert traditional didactic activities to simulation-based interactive sessions. Industry may be another avenue of support. Already, there is significant industry support for healthcare education, for the development of simulation laboratories, “in-kind” donation of industry products for simulation, and industry-supported educational opportunities. But educators and residents must be aware of and properly disclose these industry relationships. As proposed by the scientific community, increasing funding from philanthropic sources or grant funding may minimize such reliance on industry support (2).

2.-Technical barriers

Another main barrier in simulation training is that most solutions are still not available realistic enough, thus making the direct practice with patients irreplaceable. Moreover, in order to be financially successful, the simulator must be capable of offering the following features: (a) multifunctional training for many different specialties, (b) have the ability to train different levels of expertise, and (c) must be integrated into several aspects of medical practice such as preoperative planning, research and virtual prototyping of instruments or equipment (1).

3.- Lack of standards in assessment metrics

Assessment methods and the metrics used should be standardized since there are still no uniform tests or reporting schemes available, which makes it difficult to determine the correspondence between different training approaches (1).

4.— COVID-19 pandemy

COVID-19 has an unprecedented impact on medical education worldwide, leading to cancellation of lectures, exams, clinical rotations, and ultimately temporary closure of medical schools. 

In March 2020, the International Nursing Association of Clinical Simulation and Learning (INACSL) and the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH) issued a statement on the ‘use of virtual simulation as a replacement for clinical hours’ during the pandemic caused by COVID- 19. The use of virtual simulation technologies is likely to be adopted during the pandemic to enhance and strengthen procedural and patient care skills. Further, increase in use of remote learning with the help of screen-based simulation, augmented reality / AR, mixed reality, blended and / or extended reality, and virtual reality / VR is expected to drive growth of the virtual medical simulation market (4 ).

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VIRTA Med - mobile surgical simulation lab

Medical education has come into the spotlight as many surgeons have reduced time in the operating room due to COVID-19 precautions. As a global leader in medical simulation training, Swiss-based VirtaMed will use the coming months as a unique opportunity to provide courses with their latest surgical simulators in hospitals. From St. Gallen to Geneva, surgical departments will welcome a mobile simulation lab that is kitted out with virtual reality simulators and run by an expert team.
  1. ElHelw, MA (2020). Overview of Surgical Simulation. arXiv preprint arXiv: 2005.03011.
  2. Jabbour, N., & Snyderman, CH (2017). The economics of surgical simulation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America50
  3. Anton, NE, Gardner, AK, & Stefanidis, D. (2020). Priorities in surgical simulation research: What do the experts say ?. The American Journal of Surgery220
  5. Lin, Y., Cheng, A., Hecker, K., Grant, V., & Currie, GR (2018). Implementing economic evaluation in simulation ‐ based medical education: challenges and opportunities. Medical Education52
  6. Helder, MR, Rowse, PG, Ruparel, RK, Li, Z., Farley, DR, Joyce, LD, & Stulak, JM (2016). Basic cardiac surgery skills on sale for $ 22.50: an aortic anastomosis simulation curriculum. The Annals of thoracic surgery101
Edu Soler

Science, healthcare and business are the three pillars that drive me nowadays. I love to engage new people in the adventure of healthcare innovation and always keep on learning from them. I am highly motivated with my participation in performing teams worldwide.

All stories by: Edu Soler

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