Virtual reality in spinal endoscopy: a paradigm shift in education to support spine surgeons

Ryan Lohre, Jeffrey C. Wang, Kai-Uwe Lewandrowski, Danny P. Goel

Abstract

Background: Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) and endoscopic spine surgery have continually evolving indications in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. Endoscopic spine surgery entails treatment of disc disease, stenosis, spondylolisthesis, radiculopathy, and deformity. MISS involves complex motor skills in regions of variable anatomy. Simulator use has been proposed to aid in training and skill retention, preoperative planning, and intraoperative use.
Methods: A systematic review of five databases was performed for publications pertaining to the use of virtual (VR), augmented (AR), and mixed (MR) reality in MISS and spinal endoscopic surgery. Qualitative data analysis was undertaken with focus of study design, quality, and reported outcomes. Study quality was assessed using the Medical Education Research Quality Instrument (MERSQI) score and level of evidence (LoE) by a modified Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (OCEBM) level for simulation in medicine.
Results: Thirty-eight studies were retained for data collection. Studies were of intervention-control, clinical application, and pilot or cross-sectional design. Identified articles illustrated use of VR, AR, and MR in all study designs. Procedures included pedicle cannulation and screw insertion, vertebroplasty, kyphoplasty, percutaneous transforaminal endoscopic discectomy (PTED), lumbar puncture and facet injection, transvertebral anterior cervical foraminotomy (TVACF) and posterior cervical laminoforaminotomy. Overall MERSQI score was low-to-medium [M =9.71 (SD =2.60); range, 4.5–13.5], and LoE was predominantly low given the number of purely descriptive articles, or low-quality randomized studies.
Conclusions: The current scope of VR, AR, and MR surgical simulators in MISS and spinal endoscopic surgery was described. Studies demonstrate improvement in technical skill and patient outcomes in short term follow-up. Despite this, overall study quality and levels of evidence remain low. Cohesive study design and reporting with focus on transfer validity in training scenarios, and patient derived outcome measures in clinical studies are required to further advance the field.