Penn State develops low-cost needle simulator -
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Penn State develops low-cost needle simulator

needle insertion simulator
Jason Moore, associate professor of mechanical engineering; David Pepley, a doctoral student studying mechanical engineering; and Yichun "Leo" Tang, undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering, work with the needle simulator training device. Image: Erin Cassidy Hendrick

A Penn State University College of Engineering team of researchers in State College, Pennsylvania developed a haptic-force needle-insertion simulator it says will improve the current training methods for needle-based procedures in anesthesiology, such as epidurals. The team feels training for these complex and delicate procedures are costly and fall short in preparing doctors for every patient and situation they will face.

The haptic-force needle-insertion simulator, created by the team of researchers led by Jason Moore, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is a low-cost, hand-held device that simulates the tactic feeling of the instrument passing through several layers of tissue. It also connects to a computer program that assesses the user’s performance.

Working in harmony, the tool and program interface will provide real-time feedback on the physician’s performance during training. This response is crucial to the device and represents a new efficiency and effectiveness of surgical training, because currently, the most effective way to train clinicians is to observe other doctors.

“Those of us who teach these procedures find it very difficult to teach the needle, eye and image coordination skills,” said Sanjib Adhikary, associate professor of Anesthesiology, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and co-investigator of the project.

The idea is that using this simulator will better prepare doctors for these procedures. “It can raise the ability of residents before they begin performing these procedures on patients,” Moore said. “It also gives them a very nice way to assess their performance and understand where improvements can be made.”

Other training methods, like using mannequins, are more expensive and don’t account for the range of body types a doctor would encounter in their patients. This device is able to change its simulation based on these different scenarios, like varying skin thickness and excess body weight. “Being unprepared for diverse patient scenarios can increase the probability of complications occurring, and this training will help the doctor’s ability to adapt,” Moore said.

Eventually, this tool could be adapted to train doctors in other specialties like emergency medicine, radiology and surgery.

Moore, Adhikary and Miller received a grant from the College of Engineering to commercialize the product – which has accelerated their work, according to Moore, to the point that they hope to test the device at Penn State Hershey and receive feedback from physicians next fall.

“We’re really excited because the device is slated be relatively low cost, less than $100,” Moore said. “I would love to see this widely applied, all the way down to undergraduate pre-med programs. It could be impactful to easily assess this skill and provide meaningful feedback to allow for continuous improvement.”

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