Researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the US have created a low-cost needle simulator to train doctors to perform complex and delicate medical procedures.

The handheld simulator is intended to provide an alternative for existing training approaches such as mannequins, which are expensive and do not imitate all kinds of patients or settings.

Designed as a haptic-force needle-insertion device, the new simulator can mimic the tactic feeling of an instrument passing through multiple tissue layers. This feature is considered beneficial as the hands of doctors need to possess a steady rate during insertion.

“The device can change its simulation depending on different patient scenarios, including varying skin thickness and body weight. This is intended to prepare doctors to adapt to any complications that may occur.”

The simulator can also be linked to a computer programme that evaluates performance of the user.

Pennsylvania State University mechanical engineering associate professor Jason Moore said: “There’s a build-up of force upon tissue deflection and a sudden release of force upon tissue puncture.

“This training tool can help surgeons, residents and med students improve their dexterous abilities.”

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Together, the stimulator and associated programme deliver feedback on the user’s performance in real-time during surgical training.

The researchers also noted that the device can change its simulation depending on different patient scenarios, including varying skin thickness and body weight. This is intended to prepare doctors to adapt to any complications that may occur during surgical procedures.

While the simulator is yet to be clinically tested, the team believes that the tool can be further developed to train doctors in other medical areas such as emergency medicine, radiology and surgery.

Moore added: “We’re really excited because the device is slated be relatively low cost, less than $100. I would love to see this widely applied, all the way down to undergraduate pre-med programmes.

“It could be impactful to easily assess this skill and provide meaningful feedback to allow for continuous improvement.”