The adage goes that practice makes perfect, which is certainly applicable to the delivery of health care services. However, with tight budgets, limited instructors—and instructor time—and, in the instance of some procedures, the availability of patients willing to function as test patients, it is often difficult for young physicians to earn significant practice time. The new ScanTrainer ultrasound training simulator from MedaPhor, Cardiff, Wales, aims to alleviate some of these issues.

The ScanTrainer is a stand-alone system that teaches users gynecological ultrasound procedures without the help of an instructor or need for a patient or ultrasound system. The device—which does not require FDA certification or a CE mark because it is solely a training tool—achieves this through the integration of a computer desktop dashboard and a haptic device that has been designed to simulate the feel of working with a real patient.

“It’s a virtual, real-feel ultrasound training simulator,” said MedaPhor CEO Stuart Gall. “Traditionally, to learn these techniques, you need to have a patient to learn on and you need to have an ultrasound machine. It’s quite hard to find people who will let you train on them. When you’re learning, you want to experiment and try to see where you’ve gone wrong. This system is designed to remove the need in the learning experience to have a patient to learn those skills on, and minimize the time that a tutor needs to spend teaching those skills. Because the other resource you need is a teacher to stand there with you and give one-on-one instruction.

“This system gives you a 24/7, self-learning teaching aid that you can put in a normative environment. You can have a whole range of trainees on there and teach them multiple skills for diagnosing and interpreting these tests.”

The ScanTrainer’s replica ultrasound probe is attached to a force-feedback device, which enables the trainee to navigate around a virtual patient’s anatomy. As the probe is moved, the display shows the progress of the beam in the patient’s anatomy, side by side with corresponding ultrasound images that have been generated during real-time scanning. ScanTrainer replicates the real-time physical feedback of probe manipulation and contact with a patient, allowing trainees to develop the necessary manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination.

“When you move the haptic probe, you get feedback from the device as if you were inside the patient,” said Gall. “The harder you push it, the harder it pushes against you. That dynamic is then replicated on the screen. Whenever you move the probe, you see it moving inside the patient on the screen. You immediately understand how the ultrasound is built.”

The stand-alone device features built-in software that offers a wide range of teaching services as well as a realistic ultrasound environment. In addition to the dynamic ultrasound image on-screen, the dashboard includes a virtual mock-up of a patient that tracks a user’s position; all of the controls available on an ultrasound machine; and a real-time teaching checklist that instructs the user, removing the need for an instructor to be present while it is in use.

“You have all of the standard controls that you would have on your ultrasound machine,” said Gall. “You have contrast, brightness, gain, and freeze frame enabling measurements; all of the things that you would expect on a generic ultrasound dashboard. On the bottom right, there is a ‘teacher’ that’s giving you a lesson. Every single module breaks every procedure down to simple-to-follow tasks. After you complete the tasks, it gives you the results on the screen. Every element that you’ve been asked to do is being measured in real time against the patient.”

The ScanTrainer was designed to address a clear need in the industry to offer more training for students and physicians. MedaPhor, inspired by Nazar N. Amso, PhD (London), FRCOG, ILTHEM, Senior Lecturer in Gynaecology at Cardiff University, collaborated with professors and industry professionals to design the system and help meet the needs of those that would use the device—both universities and hospital settings.

“Rather than being a bit of technology that we thought, ‘What can it do,’ we designed something specifically to meet the need in ultrasound training,” said Gall. “I think it demonstrates, now that we have a commercial product to show people, that’s how it’s been designed. It’s all about creating a product that meets that educational need.”