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AFRL researchers studying trust between surgical teams, robots

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has been studying how surgical teams gain trust in new robotic surgery technology to improve training and expand the adoption of improved surgical techniques.

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Researchers are working with the Institute for Defense Robotic Surgical Education, or InDoRSE, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. InDoRSE began training surgical teams across the Department of Defense on surgical robotics in March 2017 and is the first military training facility of its kind.

To expand and improve training capabilities, the InDoRSE team is confident the study will make training more effective by revealing any potential barriers to uptake and use of surgical robotics.

“It is important to study these trust relationships since it impacts the surgeon’s use of the technology,” said Dr. Svyatoslav Guznov, a human factors research psychologist with the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Understanding the trust relationships ensures that the technology is being used correctly. Studying trust will help inform and improve the training program, and better prepare surgeons to use robotics in their facilities.”

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Although it has been shown that robotic surgery can significantly improve patient outcomes, some surgeons are hesitant to trust it.

This new study will focus on how surgical teams learn to trust the surgical robots by observing teams during training. Researchers will examine the current attitudes and beliefs about the robot itself, and seek to understand why people trust, or do not trust, robotic surgery.

“Trust is vital in the operating room, between the surgeon and their tools, and among all members of the team,” said Guznov. “Researchers are also looking to see if there is any impact on communication and coordination between the surgical team when robotics are in use.”

Guznov and his team were inspired by existing research that looked at the trust between pilots and ground-sensing technology on aircraft. That research indicated that if a pilot did not trust the technology, he or she is less likely to use it or would use it incorrectly.

AFRL is interested in how similar trust relationships play out in the medical field.

While this research is in the early stages, preliminary results already show great promise.

“I have seen skeptical surgeons coming to InDoRSE training and have their view completely changed,” said Maj. Scott Thallemer, perioperative nurse and robotics coordinator with InDoRSE. “This research will help us identify potential barriers and misconceptions about surgical robots, and we’ll use that to help future trainees build trust in the technology.”

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