Immersion enters virtual reality to solve surgical problems

October 29, 2003

Key simulations build on medical imagingImmersion Medical is using advanced imaging techniques to create simulations in virtual reality. The Gaithersburg, MD, company bundles technologies-a computer, one or several monitors, an

Key simulations build on medical imaging

Immersion Medical is using advanced imaging techniques to create simulations in virtual reality. The Gaithersburg, MD, company bundles technologies-a computer, one or several monitors, an interface device, and specialized software-to offer a line of products that deliver virtual sight and touch. Specific products include CathSim Vascular Access Simulator, AccuTouch Endoscopy simulator, AccuTouch Endovascular Simulator, and Laparoscopy Simulator.

"We focus on particular medical procedures, ones that are prone to error or require considerable practice, identifying the various aspects of these procedures and categorizing them in terms of cognitive skills, verbal information, sight, sound, and touch," said Bill Lewandowski, vice president for simulation systems. "Then we determine the most effective way to simulate them."

Fluoroscopic views are the core of the process for simulated coronary angiography procedures. Now being developed is an ultrasound simulation.

FDA clearance is not required to sell these simulators, according to Dr. Kevin Kunkler, medical director. The training programs for which they're used, however, require certification.

"The primary market encompasses leading teaching institutions across the country and internationally," he said. "We consider our ideal market to be anywhere you find medical students, nursing students, residents, fellows, and physician assistants who go through training."

Immersion products are being marketed primarily through medical device manufacturers. With their input, simulations are created and simulators sold. Current partners include Medtronic for angiography, angioplasty, and cardiac rhythm management simulations, and Gynecare for hysteroscopy simulations. Simulators also are sold directly to hospitals and teaching institutions.

Immersion Medical was established in 1987 with a somewhat different purpose-to explain complex medical procedures using multimedia. The development of simulation technology aimed at training medical staff, including physicians and nurses, was the next step.

Simulator sales began in 1998. Since then, some 800 of these products have been sold. They range in price from $10,000 to $75,000, depending on which procedure they simulate and which procedural modules are included. Competing systems are being marketed by Mentice Medical Simulation, a European company, and Medical Simulation. Immersion also competes against Simbionics for endoscopy and Meti for intravenous simulation.

"Most of our competitors tend to focus on, say, endovascular or endoscopic," Lewandowski said. "We compete in a number of different procedural areas."

The technology is applicable to interventional cardiologists, interventional radiologists, and others who rely on medical imaging and minimally invasive technology. Future products may help physicians capture and interpret medical images.