Neurosurgery students learn faster, perform better after learning techniques from AI, not humans

Trainee neurosurgeons do better after being taught by artificial intelligence rather than humans, new research reveals. The computer “brain” dramatically improved students’ techniques during the simulated removal of a brain tumor, according to the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital study.

Medical students were assigned at random to the Virtual Operative Assistant (VOA) that was named one of TIME magazine’s best inventions of 2020. It can role-play life-like scenarios and be used alongside a virtual reality headset, a PC or tablet.

The program students used, called Virti, helps develop skills that previously were gained using actors to play the role of patients. Now, medics say it is no longer safe to have 30 people in the teaching room. It was also used at the peak of the pandemic to train staff how to safely use PPE, navigate a new intensive care ward and talk with patients and their families.

During tests on the VOA, researchers report the medical students picked up skills 2.6 times faster and achieved 36 percent better results after the instruction and feedback. This was compared to peers given guidance remotely. Expert instructors watched a live feed and provided feedback based on performance.

Surprisingly, they also did not experience any greater stress or negative emotion, scientists said. A third group received no help and acted as a control.

A student training on a neurosurgical simulator. (Credit: The Neuro)

“Artificially intelligent tutors like the VOA may become a valuable tool in the training of the next generation of neurosurgeons,” explains senior author, Dr. Rolando Del Maestro, in a statement. “The VOA significantly improved expertise while fostering an excellent learning environment.”

It uses a machine learning algorithm to teach safe and efficient technique and provide personalised feedback.

The 70 participants were assessed by deep learning tool ICEMS (Intelligent Continuous Expertise Monitoring System) and an expert panel. Surgical skill plays an important role in patient outcomes both during and after brain surgery.

“Ongoing studies are assessing how in-person instructors and AI-powered intelligent tutors can most effectively be used together to improve the mastery of neurosurgical skills,” adds Dr. Del Maestro.

The pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities for medical training, experts note. VOA may be an effective way to increase neurosurgeon performance, improving patient safety while reducing the burden on human instructors, the study suggests.

“Intelligent tutoring systems can use a variety of simulation platforms to provide almost unlimited chances for repetitive practice without the constraints imposed by the availability of supervision,” says first author Ali Fazlollahi, a graduate student at the school.

“With continued research, increased development, and dissemination of intelligent tutoring systems, we can be better prepared for ever-evolving future challenges.”

The Canadian team have a U.S. patent for the device.

The research is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Article provided by South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn

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