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Surgical simulation practices have witnessed a rapid expansion as an invaluable approach to resident training in recent years. One emerging way of implementing simulation is the adoption of extended reality (XR) technologies, which enable trainees to hone their skills by allowing interaction with virtual 3D objects placed in either real-world imagery or virtual environments. The goal of the present systematic review is to survey and broach the topic of XR in neurosurgery, with a focus on education. Five databases were investigated, leading to the inclusion of 31 studies after a thorough reviewing process. Focusing on user performance (UP) and user experience (UX), the body of evidence provided by these 31 studies showed that this technology has, in fact, the potential of enhancing neurosurgical education through the use of a wide array of both objective and subjective metrics. Recent research on the topic has so far produced solid results, particularly showing improvements in young residents, compared to other groups and over time. In conclusion, this review not only aids to a better understanding of the use of XR in neurosurgical education, but also highlights the areas where further research is entailed while also providing valuable insight into future applications.
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Citation: Iop, A.; El-Hajj, V.G.;
Gharios, M.; de Giorgio, A.; Monetti,
F.M.; Edström, E.; Elmi-Terander, A.;
Romero, M. Extended Reality in
Neurosurgical Education: A
Systematic Review. Sensors 2022,22,
Academic Editor: Steve Ling
Received: 6 July 2022
Accepted: 12 August 2022
Published: 14 August 2022
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Extended Reality in Neurosurgical Education:
A Systematic Review
Alessandro Iop 1,2,3,*,† , Victor Gabriel El-Hajj 1,2,*,† , Maria Gharios 1,2 , Andrea de Giorgio 4,
Fabio Marco Monetti 3, Erik Edström 1,2 , Adrian Elmi-Terander 1,2 and Mario Romero 3
1Department of Neurosurgery, Karolinska University Hospital, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden
2Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
3KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 114 28 Stockholm, Sweden
4SnT—Interdisciplinary Center for Security, Reliability and Trust, University of Luxembourg,
4365 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
*Correspondence: (A.I.); (V.G.E.-H.); Tel.: +46-73-095-7391 (A.I.)
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Surgical simulation practices have witnessed a rapid expansion as an invaluable approach
to resident training in recent years. One emerging way of implementing simulation is the adoption of
extended reality (XR) technologies, which enable trainees to hone their skills by allowing interaction
with virtual 3D objects placed in either real-world imagery or virtual environments. The goal of the
present systematic review is to survey and broach the topic of XR in neurosurgery, with a focus on
education. Five databases were investigated, leading to the inclusion of 31 studies after a thorough
reviewing process. Focusing on user performance (UP) and user experience (UX), the body of evidence
provided by these 31 studies showed that this technology has, in fact, the potential of enhancing
neurosurgical education through the use of a wide array of both objective and subjective metrics.
Recent research on the topic has so far produced solid results, particularly showing improvements in
young residents, compared to other groups and over time. In conclusion, this review not only aids
to a better understanding of the use of XR in neurosurgical education, but also highlights the areas
where further research is entailed while also providing valuable insight into future applications.
extended reality; neurosurgery; education; virtual reality; augmented reality; mixed
reality; procedural knowledge; simulation; residents
1. Introduction
Neurosurgical residency training encompasses the acquisition of several years worth
of both nominal and procedural knowledge as well as practical skills. Perfecting these skills
requires continuous learning and hands-on training even beyond residency. However, the
complexity of the procedures and the delicate character of the areas being operated on
greatly limit young residents’ opportunities to train, which in turn further stretches their
learning curve. Similarly to the field of aviation [
], simulation has provided neurosurgery
with a “trial-and-error”-based method of learning without putting patients at risk.
Neurosurgical simulation can be performed on cadaveric [
], animal, or physical 3D
models [
], or through the adoption of extended reality techniques [
]. Of these, only the
latter has the potential to cost-effectively offer seamless and unlimited use, together with a
realistic reproduction of physical reality. Extended reality (XR) refers to the spectrum of
applications that fuse (i.e., superimpose) virtual and real imagery, for instance, 3D models
with live camera feeds, as shown in Figure 1. At one end of the spectrum lies the physical
reality and at the other end lies virtual reality (VR), where all visual imagery is computer-
generated and the user is fully immersed in a digital environment. Between the extremes
of the spectrum we can also find mixed reality (MR, not to be confused with the medical
Sensors 2022,22, 6067.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 2 of 20
acronym widely known for magnetic resonance), corresponding to physical reality with the
addition of virtual objects. A popular subset of MR technologies is augmented reality (AR).
Extended Reality (XR)
Reality Augmented
Reality (AR)
Reality (VR)
Reality-Virtuality Continuum
Mixed Reality (MR)
Direct view of reality. Virtual objects registered
and rendered from the
user's perspective over
the real-world scene.
Full immersion in a digital
environment. All objects
are virtual. Users can
see and hear objects.
Haptics are simulated.
Real objects are scanned
and digitized into virtual
environments where the
user can see, hear and
touch them.
Figure 1.
Reality–virtuality continuum. Spectrum of physical and extended reality, with virtual
reality at one end and the real world at the other.
Within the medical field, XR has been applied in a variety of contexts other than educa-
tional, for example, in preoperative surgical planning [
], in intraoperative
navigation [911]
for improving patient care through rehabilitation [
], in patient
education [14,15]
, and
informed consent [
]. Research employing XR technologies has also focused on surgical
performance in critical conditions, for instance, in cases of sleep deprivation [17].
Regarding neurosurgical education, it is now evident that practicing in a virtual
environment adds valuable aspects compared to a classical observation-based way of
acquiring procedural knowledge. Training in an XR setting may also provide exposure to a
nuanced library of cases to better prepare the student for the diversity of real
cases [18,19]
In addition, these techniques allow for remote education, where learners and teachers are
located in different places and the communication between them (i.e., the transmission of
knowledge) takes place at different times. Consequently, a higher number of participants
can potentially virtually attend neurosurgical operations from all over the world, while in
the comfort of their own homes and without having to “compete” for a spot in the operating
room (OR), a scenario explored in previous research using 360
cameras [
]. Implementing
such an asynchronous and distributed educational tool, by recording surgical procedures
and enabling viewers to control their video playback, can serve to promote education,
especially in areas of the world where access to relevant expertise is limited [21,22].
Neurosurgery partly owes its complexity to the intricacy of the anatomy involved,
hence the need for a deep neuroanatomical knowledge. Studies have shown that learning
anatomy while immersed in a virtual environment might aid in retention and recall of topo-
graphic [
] as well as operative anatomy [
]. Virtual volume rendering technologies
are sometimes used to supplement XR in conjunction with accurate 3D models, or haptic
feedback devices. The aim is to realistically simulate surgical procedures through illusions
of tissue deformation. By displaying its behavior when sufficient force is exerted on it using
a (virtual or physical) tool, or by providing users with tactile feedback, a more holistic
experience is created. When haptic devices are used in an XR application, a whole new
aspect of performance assessment is revealed, mainly through tracking of force, motion,
tremor, and hand ergonomics [
]. Assessment of performance and dexterity with
haptic devices in users has been employed to select future neurosurgical residents [30,31],
and to determine skills and track progress in current residents’ training [32].
More in general, we define user performance (UP) as a set of metrics that quantifies
the efficiency and effectiveness of a surgical simulation carried out on an XR system. It
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includes, but is not limited to, measures of accuracy and precision, as well as outcome of
the surgery, speed in the execution, and number of attempts per user. Alongside UP, user
experience (UX) is an essential aspect of evaluating an XR application or simulation device,
as it accounts for the way test subjects perceive the events, interactions, and feedback
associated with the simulation environment and tools. We distinguish several categories
of UX metrics in order to be able to formally group indicators across different studies
when applicable: usefulness, the user ’s opinions on the impact and effectiveness of the
proposed application; self-assessment, the appreciation and evaluation of the user’s own
performance; haptic interaction, related to the system’s tactile input and output; ease of use;
system feedback, the environmental response to user interaction; comfort—i.e., ergonomics;
time requirements (to perform actions and receive feedback); engagement; immersiveness,
the “sense of being there” in the virtual environment; and realism, the visual (and tactile,
when applicable) fidelity of the application with regards to real surgical procedures [
The adoption of XR technologies in neurosurgical education promises to change the
pedagogical landscape, improving the quality of teaching and the efficacy of procedural
knowledge acquisition. The rapid increase in the number of studies performed and pub-
lished on this topic is clear evidence of such a trend in modern medicine, and particularly
in neurosurgery [
]. An arising interest has been shown in novel technologies that allow
residents to participate in complex neurosurgical procedures and tasks from early years
of training. In fact, the results of a recent survey distributed to neurosurgery program
directors to collect their opinions on simulation as an educational tool in the USA concluded
that simulation is considered to be essential for practice alongside the more conventional
training methods [36].
The present systematic review is intended to study and discuss the recent research
landscape on the use of XR technologies in neurosurgical education, with a focus on cranial
neurosurgical practices. In this context, we aim at adding to the current understanding of
the field and provide useful insights for both clinicians and residency program directors
who are interested in what XR technologies have to offer. In particular, our goal is to answer
the following research questions:
1. What kinds of cranial surgical procedures is recent research focused on?
Is research on the topic localized in specific geographical areas of the world, or is it
evenly distributed?
Are users benefiting from the use of XR technologies in education, and appreciating
their fidelity to real-life scenarios? In other words, are proposed applications useful
and realistic according to the users?
What metrics are used to assess the impact of these technologies on performance,
usability, and learning curves of test subjects? Are such metrics employed across
multiple studies, or are they related to a specific experimental setup?
5. What devices are used in recent research on the topic?
Ultimately, through the present review we seek to both detect trends and uncover
knowledge gaps within this research area, in order to support future endeavors in the field.
Findings presented here may highlight opportunities for related work and raise important
questions for future studies.
2. Methods
This systematic review is reported in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items
for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines [
]; the related 2020-
PRISMA checklist is provided as Supplementary Material (Supplementary File S1). The
review protocol was registered within the International Prospective Register of Systematic
Reviews (PROSPERO) (Registration ID: 319508 and date of registration: 20 March 2022).
The record was constantly updated in the case of any change to the design of the work.
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2.1. Eligibility Criteria
All empirical studies published between 2013 and 2022, written in English, and
focusing on education through XR technologies in cranial neurosurgery were eligible for
inclusion in the present systematic review (Table 1).
Table 1.
Eligibility criteria. Summary of criteria for inclusion of studies in the present review, based
on relevant attributes and the PICO (population, intervention, comparators, outcome) model.
Criteria Inclusion Exclusion
Study type Empirical studies presenting
quantitative data
Narrative or non-empirical studies (reviews,
editorials, opinions)
Year of publishing 2013–2022 Before 2013
Language English All other languages
Population n/a n/a
Device Stereoscopic, off-the-shelf displays Mobile-based
Intervention Procedural skill acquisition in
cranial neurosurgery
Spinal neurosurgery, other medical specialties
and other application domains (e.g., patient
education, surgical navigation, preoperative
Comparator n/a n/a
Outcome Performance metrics and/or user
experience n/a
2.2. Types of Studies
The systematic review includes original, experimental, peer-reviewed studies, regard-
less of publication status. Non-empirical studies presenting XR techniques (e.g., pipelines,
systems, know-how) without any user studies for validation purposes are excluded.
2.3. Types of Population
No restrictions to inclusion were made based on the training level or experience of
participants. This means that test subjects recruited in the included user studies can be
medical students (MSs), residents, or experienced neurosurgeons.
2.4. Type of Intervention
Only articles focusing on the use of extended reality applications for cranial neurosur-
gical education were considered for inclusion in this review. Studies addressing the use of
XR within other contexts such as patient education, informed consent, preoperative plan-
ning, or intraoperative navigation were systematically excluded. The focus of this review
relied on commercial, off-the-shelf stereoscopic displays; hence, all studies introducing or
employing custom devices that are not available on the market were excluded.
2.5. Types of Comparators
There were no restrictions with respect to the type of comparator. This means that
control cases can include between-subject conditions, which compare members of the same
population, as well as within-subject conditions, which quantify changes in UP/UX for
each test subject, and longitudinal studies, which focus more on the long-term impact of
the proposed application.
2.6. Types of Outcome Measures
The main outcomes of interest were measures of performance and usability assessed
objectively and subjectively by users interacting with different systems.
2.7. Databases and Search Strategy
Five electronic databases covering medicine and technology were used: PubMed, Sco-
pus and Web of Science for medicine; IEEE Xplore and ACM Digital Library for engineering
and technology were searched. To ensure reproducibility of our findings, an extensive
and elaborate description of the steps that went into the creation of our search strategy
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(Supplementary File S2) as well as a detailed description of the query (or queries) applied
in each engine is provided (Supplementary File S3). The search strategy applied to the
present review in February 2022 limits results to the last decade (2013–2022), and only
includes papers written in English.
2.8. Study Selection
The search yielded a total of 784 papers across databases. Once retrieved, the records
were uploaded onto Rayyan [
], where manual deduplication was performed, leaving
352 articles. It was then noted that two articles were written in foreign languages without
translation, which resulted in their exclusion. The remaining 350 records were then screened
by two independent and blinded reviewers (V.G.E. and A.I.), first by title and subsequently
by abstract. In the final step, full texts of the 50 remaining articles were extracted and
separated into three groups of 16 or 17 articles, so as to assign two of them to each of
three blinded and independent reviewers (A.I., V.G.E., and M.G.). This way, each group of
articles would be reviewed by two different reviewers. After each step, conflicts were solved
through both discussion between the involved parties and consultation of a fourth reviewer
(M.R.). The entire process yielded a total of 31 studies deemed eligible for definitive
inclusion in this review, as illustrated in the PRISMA flow chart shown in Figure 2.
Studies identified from:
Scopus (n = 282)
Web of Science (n = 235)
PubMed (n = 230)
IEEE (n = 31)
ACM (n = 6)
Total (n = 784)
Studies removed before screening:
Duplicate records removed (n = 432)
Foreign language (n = 2)
Studies screened by title
(n = 350)
Studies excluded at that phase (n = 143)
Off-topic (n = 103)
Wrong publication type (n = 40)
Studies screened by abstract
(n = 207)
Studies excluded at that phase (n = 157)
Off-topic (n = 112)
No original data or outcomes presented (n = 26)
Wrong publication type (n = 19)
Studies assessed based on full-
text reading (n = 50)
Studies excluded at the final phase (n = 19)
Non-holographic display (n = 5)
Focus on neuroanatomical learning (n = 5)
Non-educational use (n = 4)
Neither subjective nor objective measures
presented (n = 3)
Spinal neurosurgery alone (n = 1)
Custom-made device used (n = 1)
Studies included in review
(n = 31)
Identification of studies via databases
Figure 2.
Study selection (PRISMA) flow chart. Summary of the selection process applied in the
present review, divided into identification, screening, and inclusion phases.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 6 of 20
2.9. Data Extraction
Data from selected records were extracted using a predefined template including
(1) general information, i.e., title, first author, journal, publication year, location, etc.;
(2) population characteristics; (3) intervention characteristics, i.e., applicability and end-use
of the technology, specific domain of application, kind of device used, use of haptic devices,
combination of other models; (4) study characteristics and comparators, study design
(cross-sectional, case control, or cohort studies), controls; (5) outcomes, i.e., subjective
measures, surveys, objective performance metrics; and (6) results and conclusions, i.e.,
positive or negative results and short summary of the final study outcome.
2.10. Data Synthesis and Risk of Bias Assessment
Although all included studies revolve around the use of XR in cranial neurosurgical
education, the procedures simulated in these articles are diverse, from tumor resections to
ventriculostomies and trigeminal rhizotomies. This variability in domain of application
together with the heterogeneity among both the devices used and the study designs, hin-
ders the performance of a meta-analysis. Consequently, we chose to adhere to a narrative
synthesis of the data to describe the body of evidence gathered around the topic of interest,
report trends, and highlight the gaps within the literature. Since this systematic review
focuses on the use of XR in neurosurgical education specifically, we chose the Newcas-
tle–Ottawa Scale-Education (NOS-E) [
] as a risk of bias assessment tool tailored to assess
medical research quality. According to it, a score on a scale from 0–6 was allocated to each
study based on a specific set of items.
3. Related Works
A quick search of both PubMed and PROSPERO revealed seven systematic reviews
revolving around topics close to the one addressed by our review [
]. Two of
them [40,41]
address the use of simulation models as a tool in neurosurgical education,
including all kinds of simulation systems such as 3D-printed, cadaveric, and animal models.
However, both reviews collected a limited number of studies that specifically targeted XR-
based techniques. Dadario et al. [
], on the other hand, reviewed the literature addressing
the uses of XR in neurosurgery, while specifically focusing on patient outcomes, a topic of
interest which is briefly addressed in our review. Chan et al. [
] performed a systematic
literature review by uniquely retrieving articles which address the use of XR tools in
assessment of neurosurgical trainee performance, an aspect that is of high relevance to the
current era but only partially covers the aspects which we intend to cover in this review.
Our aim of reviewing the literature surrounding the specific topics of cranial neurosurgical
education, as well as XR-based simulation techniques, is shared with Mazur et al. [
However, in their review, only a modest number of studies (n = 9) were included, even
encompassing both educational and preoperative applications of VR techniques. Although
the 2016 review by Barsom et al. [
] and the 2022 review by Innocente et al. [
] studied
the application of holographic techniques within neurosurgical education among other
medical fields, their overall scope was strictly limited to augmented reality techniques while
neglecting all other technologies belonging to the XR spectrum. In summary, to the best
of our knowledge, this systematic review is the first to specifically target the educational
application of XR techniques within the field of cranial neurosurgery, while still collecting
the highest number of studies, compared to the aforementioned studies.
4. Results
4.1. Characteristics of the Included Studies
Of the 784 studies identified, only 31 were finally included in this systematic review
(Table 2), with a mean NOS-E score of 3.23
1.17 (
SD) (Supplementary File S4). Thirteen
of them originate from Canada, 10 from the USA, and one from Mexico, which makes a
total of 24 in North America alone (77% of all papers). The remaining seven studies were
carried out in the UK, Italy (n = 2), China (n = 2), South Korea, and France.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 7 of 20
In the absolute majority of the included studies, participants belonged to the medical
community and were either medical students, residents, or expert neurosurgeons. Only
two articles (6%) relied solely on participants without any medical training. The studies,
however, significantly diverged in the neurosurgical procedures simulated, with the two
most common being tumor resections (n = 14, 51%) and ventriculostomy placements
, 19%). Most resection simulations were of unspecified tumor type, while only
a few studies presented tumor-specific simulations, including meningioma and GBM
resections. Aneurysm clipping, a common procedure in neurosurgery, was only simulated
in three studies (10%). Other procedures, such as tumor localization and access, trigeminal
rhizotomy, endoscopic surgery, cauterization, or bipolar hemostasis, were each attempted
once, while the rest of the studies involved unspecified surgical tasks that can be applied to
several different kinds of procedures.
Among the included studies, the use of NeuroVR (National Research Council, Mon-
treal, QC, Canada)—previously known as NeuroTouch—was most common. In fact,
16 studies
(52%) employed this device when studying VR technologies in the field of
neurosurgery. Another frequently used technology was ImmersiveTouch (ImmersiveTouch,
Chicago, IL, USA), which was the case for seven (23%) studies, whose stereoscopic 3D
display is similar to that of NeuroVR. Seven of the remaining studies employed other
stereoscopic devices, including the HoloLens (Microsoft, Redmond, WA, USA), the Oculus
Quest 2 (Meta, Menlo Park, CA, USA), and the HTC VIVE Pro (HTC Corporation, New
Taipei City, Taiwan) (Table 2). In one study the device employed was not specified. Of
the devices employed, 23 were based on stationary and flat monitors (74%), while eight
used HMDs (26%). Additionally, it was found that the majority of studies relied on VR
technologies (84%), while only a minority utilized AR (10%), and even AV ones (6%).
Twenty-six articles (84%) also presented the use of haptic feedback technologies combined
with the visual holographic simulation used.
Table 2.
Overview of the 31 included studies. Baseline characteristics and data extracted from
the studies.
ID Country Population Domain Procedure Device XR Type Haptics RoB
Alaraj 2015 [46] USA 17 R Practice
Aneurysm clipping
Alotaibi 2015 [47] Canada 6 JR, 6 SR, 6 E Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
AlZhrani 2015 [48] Canada 9 JR, 7 SR, 17 E Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 4
Ansaripour 2019
[49]UK 6 MS, 12 R, 4 E Practice
Microsurgical tasks
NeuroVR VR N/A 4
Azarnoush 2015
[50]Canada 1 JR, 1 E Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
Azimi 2018 [51] USA 10 NP Learning Ventriculostomy HoloLens AR NO 2
Breimer 2017 [52] Canada 23 R, 3 F Practice ETV NeuroVR VR YES 2
Bugdadi 2018 [53] Canada 10 SR, 8 JR Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
Bugdadi 2019 [54] Canada 6 E Practice Subpial tumor
resection NeuroVR VR YES 2
Cutolo 2017 [55] Italy 3 E Practice Surgical access,
tumor detection Sony HMZ-T2 AR NO 2
Gasco 2013 [56] USA 40 MS, 13 R Learning Bipolar hemostasis
2014 [57]Canada 10 MS, 18 JR,
44 SR
resection NeuroVR VR YES 5
Holloway 2015 [
USA 71 MS, 6 JR, 6
SR Learning GBM resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
Ledwos 2022 [59] Canada 12 MS, 10 JR,
10 SR, 4 F, 13 E Practice Subpial tumor
resection NeuroVR VR YES 4
Lin 2021 [60] China 30 I Learning Lateral ventricle
puncture HTC VIVE Pro VR YES 5
Patel 2014 [61] USA 20 MS Learning
Detection of objects
in brain cavity
Perin 2021 [62] Italy 2 JR, 1 F, 4 E Practice
Aneurysm clipping
Theater VR YES 4
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 8 of 20
Table 2. Cont.
ID Country Population Domain Procedure Device XR Type Haptics RoB
Roh 2021 [63]South
Korea 31 R Learning
procedures of
unspecified type
Oculus Quest 2 AV NO 2
Roitberg 2015 [30] USA 64 MS, 10 MS,
4 JR
Cauterization and
detection of objects
in brain cavity
Ros 2020 [64] France 1 st exp. 176
MS, Learning EVD placement Samsung Gear VR VR NO 5
2nd exp. 80 MS
Sawaya 2018 [27] Canada 14 R, 6 E Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
Sawaya 2019 [28] Canada 6 MS, 6 JR, 6
SR, 6 E
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 4
Schirmer 2013 [65] USA 10 R Learning Ventriculostomy
Shakur 2015 [66] USA 44 JR, 27 SR Skill
Si 2019 [67] China 10 NP Learning Tumor resection HoloLens AR YES 2
Teodoro-Vite 2021
[68]Mexico 6 R, 6 E Practice
Aneurysm clipping
Unspecified VR YES 3
Thawani 2016 [69] USA 6 JR Practice Endoscopic
surgery NeuroVR VR YES 5
2016 [31]Canada 16 MS Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 3
2019 [70]Canada 12 MS, 10 JR,
10 SR, 4 F, 14 E
Subpial tumor
resection NeuroVR VR YES 2
2019 [71]Canada 16 MS Skill
assessment Tumor resection NeuroVR VR YES 4
Yudkowsky 2013
[19]USA 11 JR, 5 SR Practice Ventriculostomy
RoB = risk of bias; R = residents; JR = junior residents; SR = senior residents; E = experts; MS = medical students;
NP = naïve participants; F = fellows; I = interns;
= relying on flat, static monitors;
= relying on head-mounted
Broadly, the studies can be categorized to focus on (1) learning, acquisition of new
skills; (2) practicing, to maintain or improve existing skills; (3) the assessment of skills.
The use of XR as a tool for learning was investigated in nine studies (29%), while 10 (32%)
looked at utilizing XR for practicing surgical skills, and 12 studies (39%) focused more on its
use for the assessment of participant skills and surgical dexterity. To determine the benefits
of XR in the field of cranial neurosurgical education, studies mainly focused on two types
of outcomes: user performance (UP) and/or user experience (UX). UP denotes objective
metrics of simulation-related dexterity and hand–eye coordination skills, while UX denotes
subjective metrics of usability and appreciation of the interfaces. UP was evaluated in 18
(58%), UX in eight (26%), and both UP and UX in five (16%) of the studies, respectively.
4.2. User Performance (UP)
We found that the type of UP metrics used varied depending on the procedure studied.
In all studies simulating tumor resections, the metrics were automatically computed by the
software [
]. These metrics can be grouped under three tiers,
where tier 1 metrics included the percentage of tumor resected and the volume of healthy
tissue removal, tier 2 metrics included the time required to complete the task and the path
length of different instruments, and tier 3 covered kinematic metrics such as measurements
of force applied. Even though not every study adhered to this specific classification system,
nearly all of them included most of the named metrics. A few studies [
] even
incorporated advanced derived metrics such as tumor resection effectiveness—calculated
by dividing the volume of tumor removed by the volume of healthy tissue removed—or
the tumor resection efficiency—calculated by dividing the volume of tumor removed by the
path length for each hand. Three studies (12%) [
] also looked at the volume of blood
lost during the tumor resection simulation. Among these studies employing advanced
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 9 of 20
derived metrics, there were none that used subjective metrics to assess the performances
of participants.
Five articles studied UP in ventriculostomy placement. Four of these (80%) used
objective metrics specific to the simulated procedure, including length of the procedure,
accuracy measures, e.g., distance from the catheter tip to the target and depth of the
catheter, and success measures, e.g., number of first-attempt successes [
]. These
metrics were typically computed automatically by the software utilized, except for one
study where experts were assigned the task of estimating the UP to create an individual
score [
]. On the other hand, a single study focusing on UP in ventriculostomy placement
adopted a more subjective approach instead of using objective performance metrics, by
allowing participants to fill in a survey assessing memory retention with procedure-specific
questions [64].
The UP metrics studied in the two aneurysm clipping simulation studies [
included measures of position and orientation of the clip. However, while one of the
studies focused on kinematic performances with assessment of forces used, path length,
velocity, and acceleration, as well as jerk and contact frequency [
], the other concentrated
on outcome measures, such as presence of residual aneurysm, patency of distal branches,
and clip choice appropriateness, in order to estimate an individual score based on the clip
evaluation scale [
]. The outcome-centered approach of the latter likely was related with
the design of the study which also later involved performance assessment of live-patient
procedures, and comparison between the residents with XR simulator training vs. those
without. Indeed, the tracking of clinical outcome measures even during simulation would
give a better estimation of the resident’s performance during live-patient surgery than
kinematic metrics. During the live-patient procedure, the residents were further assessed
based on length of surgery, length of hospitalization, aneurysm occlusion, patency of the
normal vessel, and intraoperative complications [
]. In the remaining studies reported
here (n = 6), UP was assessed for a diverse range of different procedures, such as trigeminal
rhizotomy [
], localization of tumors [
] or objects [
] in the brain (without resection),
endoscopic surgery [69], microsurgical tasks [49], and cauterization [30].
Eight of 26 studies (31%) adopted an “XR vs. non-XR” controlled design, assessing
and comparing UP between groups assigned to different conditions. The use of XR (VR
in six cases and AR in two) was associated with improved UP and contributed to better
outcomes. Two studies adopting the “XR vs. non-XR” design [
] and one of the longi-
tudinal studies [
] tested, and successfully validated, the hypothesis that XR training of
residents could improve outcomes on live-patient subjects when compared to residents that
were not trained with XR. Additionally, there were five studies—two on ventriculostomy
placement, two on tumor resection, and one on endoscopic surgery [
adopted a longitudinal design to address the participants’ individual improvement based
on UP metrics.
One way of testing the realism of different XR interfaces is by looking at the relation-
ship between overall UP and training level. Arguably, these variables are related, with
better performances associated with the more experienced users. In the virtual world, sys-
tems that are able to reproduce similar changes in overall UP based on training level would
typically have features that are closer to reality. We found 16 studies that investigated
performance differences based on level of training or experience (Table 3). Differences in
UP favoring the more experienced participants were found in all studies except one [
As expected, these UP differences were not consistent across all metrics assessed [
and there were outliers among the less experienced who clearly outperformed their peers,
and at times, even their superiors [31,57].
Finally, a small number of UP studies (n = 4) [
] assessed improvements
in participants during a series of sessions (longitudinal design) while also looking at
differences across training level or experience, mainly to test the hypothesis that less
experienced users benefit more from the technology. This hypothesis was validated in
two studies [
], while a single study showed mixed results [
]. In the last of the four
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studies, the absence of data on UP of experienced residents at follow-up did not allow for
conclusions to be drawn, even though the authors reported that “residents felt that the
simulator would be most helpful for novice residents” [19].
Table 3.
User performance. List of studies addressing quantitative metrics of UP, along with related
relevant experimental design features.
Study ID Outcome vs. No-XR Longitudinal Training Level
Alotaibi 2015 UP and UX NO NO YES
AlZhrani 2015 UP NO NO YES
Ansaripour 2019 UP NO YES NO
Azarnoush 2015 UP NO NO YES
Azimi 2018 UP and UX NO YES YES
Bugdadi 2018 UP NO NO YES
Bugdadi 2019 UP and UX NO NO NO
Cutolo 2017 UP NO YES NO
Gelinas-Phaneuf 2014 UP and UX NO NO YES
Holloway 2015 * UP YES NO YES
Ledwos 2022 * UP YES NO YES
Lin 2021 UP and UX NO YES NO
Patel 2014 UP NO YES NO
Perin 2021 UP and UX NO YES NO
Roitberg 2015 UP NO NO YES
Ros 2020 UP YES YES NO
Sawaya 2018 UP NO NO YES
Sawaya 2019 UP NO NO YES
Schirmer 2013 * UP YES NO YES
Shakur 2015 UP NO NO YES
Teodoro-Vite 2021 UP and UX NO NO YES
Thawani 2016 UP YES YES NO
Winkler-Schwartz 2016 UP NO NO YES
Winkler-Schwartz 2019 UP NO NO NO
Winkler-Schwartz 2019 UP NO NO NO
Yudkowsky 2013 * UP and UX YES NO YES
* Studies that also assessed longitudinal difference in improvement between subject groups (i.e., different train-
ing levels).
4.3. User Experience (UX)
All studies assessing UX employed surveys to collect test subjects’ subjective expe-
rience at different—and sometimes multiple—stages in the proposed user studies. These
surveys can either be standardized, validated formats that allow for a quick comparison
across multiple studies, or custom, tailor-suited sets of questions and associated metrics
aimed at capturing specific details which might not be usually included in more generic
questionnaires. Only one study (15%) [
] employed standardized questionnaires, namely,
the System Usability Scale (SUS) [
] and the NASA Task Load Index (TLX) [
], to assess
perceived usability and workload respectively. All other studies adopted custom question-
naires designed by the authors, often with the help of expert neurosurgeons. UX-related
questionnaires can be categorized based on how they reflect usefulness (n = 9, 69%), self-
assessment (n = 4, 31%), haptic interaction (n = 4, 31%), ease of use (n = 3, 23%), system
feedback (n = 4, 31%), comfort (n = 1, 8%), time requirements (n = 1, 8%), engagement
(n = 1, 8%), immersiveness (n = 2, 15%), and realism (n = 9, 69%).
The first and last categories—usefulness and realism—appear to be the most popular
categories of UX questionnaire items (Table 4). In the nine studies reporting results on per-
ceived usefulness of the proposed application [
], the vast majority
of test subjects gave positive ratings to this specific aspect. Three studies
(33%) [46,56,62]
report differences between subject groups, with less experienced participants having overall
more positive opinions towards the technology than more experienced ones. Study-specific
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 11 of 20
questionnaires were used to assess realism. Five articles out of nine (56%) refer to the realism
of the anatomy [
], while three (33%) distinguish between visual and sensory
realism [
], one (11%) includes the realism of the surgical tools [
], three (33%)
more broadly address the quality of the simulation [
], two (22%) focus on the haptic
force feedback [
], and one (11%) refers to the realism of the view
perspective [68]
. The
differences between subject groups are in this context less definitive compared to the rated
usefulness of the applications: two studies reported a higher perceived realism in more
experienced participants [
], while one reported a higher realism in less experienced
ones [46] and one resulted in no significant differences between subjects [52].
Additional comparisons between groups were mentioned in four of the 13 total studies
(31%): Alotaibi et al. [
] claimed that “junior residents self-evaluated their performance
much higher than senior [residents]” in the context of tumor resection simulation; the
second [
], that “prior experience with simulation and prior experience with assisting
endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) procedures did not have a significant effect on the
participants’ perception of the simulators”; the third [56], that “residents also appeared to
require less time to master the haptic device” when simulating bipolar homeostasis; the
fourth [
], that “[residents] showed a higher level of appreciation for the customization of
the surgical approach and corridor as compared with the expert surgeons”, when using the
proposed aneurysm clipping application.
Eleven of the articles assessing UX did not employ standardized questionnaires, but
proposed novel questionnaire items in order to investigate the quality of test subjects’
experience. Among these questionnaire items, it is not uncommon that part of them are
related to specific aspects of the type of surgical operation that is being simulated. Including
them can be useful in focusing research only on the relevant subject of interest, which is
to assess the potential impact of the proposed application on users’ learning curve. The
investigated surgery types were aneurysm clipping, tumor resection, ventriculostomy, and
bipolar homeostasis. For aneurysm clipping (n = 3, 27%), items address preoperative prepa-
ration and planning [
], anatomical structure identification [
], consistency with real
practices [
], and task difficulty [
]. For tumor resections (n = 4, 36%), items address
task difficulty [
], metrics appropriateness [
], and consistency with real practices [
while one study [
] reported questions that were not relevant to the surgical aspect. For
ventriculostomy (n = 3, 24%), items address consistency with real practices [
], task dif-
ficulty [
], anatomical structure identification [
], and preoperative preparation and
planning [
], as well as anatomical structure identification [
]. For bipolar homeostasis
(n = 1, 9%), the only study [56] reported no surgery-specific questions.
In addition to the very popular Likert-scale items [
], which measure the partici-
pant’s agreement with statements along a bipolar scale and were employed by all
13 articles
a few of them employ other quantitative or qualitative metrics in the proposed surveys.
In particular, two studies (15%) [
] included dichotomous (“yes or no”) items in their
questionnaires, while four of them (31%) [
] included open questions to collect
comments and suggestions. Two other studies (15%) [
] employed both kinds of items
in their questionnaires. More specifically, dichotomous items address a variety of different
aspects that are not always directly concerning UX, from the chosen action plan during
an operation [
], to the previous experience of the participant [
], to visual feedback
provided by the investigated application [56,60].
From the perspective of effectiveness and impact of the proposed applications, we
found that three articles (23%) mentioned somewhat inconclusive results and pose that
either further validation [
], additional expert input [
], or employing more traditional
educational methods [
] could improve the usefulness of the proposed applications. On
the other hand, the remaining 10 articles (77%) positively refer to the validity and efficacy of
the related novel applications, focusing in particular on realism and usefulness as reported
by test subjects. Additionally, we found that seven out of 13 studies (54%) explicitly
address the potential impact of the proposed applications on didactic practices when
reporting conclusions on UX metrics, and all of them do so with positive connotations.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 12 of 20
More specifically, one article (14%) reports positive outcomes for anatomical knowledge [
three (43%) for training [
], three (43%) for skill acquisition [
], and two (29%)
for educational assistance [60,63].
Table 4. User experience. List of studies addressing quantitative metrics of UX, along with related
relevant experimental design features.
Study ID Outcome Usefulness Realism Questionnaire items
Alaraj 2015 UX YES YES Binary questions + Likert scales
Alotaibi 2015 UP and UX YES YES Likert scales
Azimi 2018 UP and UX NO NO Likert scales
Breimer 2017 UX NO YES Likert scales + open comments
Bugdadi 2019 UP and UX NO NO Likert scales
Gasco 2013 UX YES NO Binary questions + Likert scales
Gelinas-Phaneuf 2014 UP and UX YES YES Likert scales + open comments
Lin 2021 UP and UX YES NO Binary questions + Likert scales + open comments
Perin 2021 UP and UX YES YES Binary questions + Likert scales + open comments
Roh 2021 UX YES YES Likert scales + open comments
Si 2019 UX YES YES Likert scales
Teodoro-Vite 2021 UP and UX NO YES Likert scales
Yudkowsky 2013 UP and UX YES YES Likert scales + open comments
5. Discussion
This systematic review explored the use of XR in cranial neurosurgical education, in
order to detect trends and uncover knowledge gaps within the research area. We found
that the increasing volume of research on the application of XR in the field of neurosurgery
does not necessarily coincide with equivalent geographical contributions. To the contrary,
research on the topic seems to be mainly localized in North America (especially Canada
and USA), where most of the devices employed in present studies are manufactured.
Although off-the-shelf XR systems, and especially HMDs, may be accessible anywhere
in the world, access to state-of-the-art advanced simulation technologies—which were
represented in the majority (74%) of the studies included in this review—is limited in
developing countries [
]. This is, in fact, concerning, as developing countries are
oftentimes pointed out as an important beneficiary of XR technologies [
]. Nevertheless,
we can compare the overall spread, market size, and pool of potential users between devices
such as NeuroVR and ImmersiveTouch, which are built for the specific purpose of surgical
simulation, and other commercial HMDs such as the HoloLens and HTC VIVE. It is clear
that by adopting more easily available and widespread technologies in the implementation
of XR educational applications, the digital divide as well as the economic barriers currently
challenging research in developing countries can be partially overcome.
One way of compensating for these geographical limitations is to outsource technolo-
gies, know-how, and expertise in order to gain access to a diversified network of resources
including—but not limited to—XR technologies, test subjects, and financial assets. The
potential of distributing such resources across multiple countries (or continents), especially
in developing nations, unfolds the possibility of overcoming socioeconomic barriers which,
at times, prevent talented neurosurgeons and trainees from gaining access to useful tools for
their own improvement, learning, and skill assessment. Additionally, disparities between
different areas of the globe when it comes to education in neurosurgery can be addressed
by developing XR-based applications that are readily accessible on the market, easy to use,
and require low maintenance to operate [21,22].
Interestingly, we found that only eight studies (26%) employed HMDs as a type of
holographic display, while 23 (74%) employed static monitors with a fixed point of view.
While the latter enables a better control of environmental variables and user interaction
as well as easing the development of XR systems without the need to register virtual
on real imagery, the former allows participants more freedom of movement, a higher
quality visual perception of the virtual environment (bigger field of view, three degrees of
freedom head movements, higher pixel density, adjustment for vision limitations, etc.), and
a more natural interaction with varying degrees of augmentation (i.e., the amount of virtual
imagery superimposed on real imagery). Throughout the literature presented in this review,
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 13 of 20
static monitors were found to be more commonly used in conjunction with haptic devices
and more often associated with a more thorough UP assessment, with a greater number
of metrics being involved than HMDs. Although less thoroughly investigated within this
area, we argue that more studies presenting educational applications on commercial HMDs
would supplement and strengthen the foundations of research presented in the existing
literature involving devices such as the NeuroVR and the ImmersiveTouch. Moreover,
because of their low cost, we believe that promoting the use of HMDs in particular could
potentially enable departments all over the world—especially in developing countries—
to carry out research on cranial neurosurgical practices by overcoming socioeconomic
challenges related to the resources needed to purchase, maintain, and install more complex
and advanced XR systems, such as NeuroVR. A quick comparison between advantages
and disadvantages of the two technologies—fixed monitors and HMDs—is presented in
Table 5.
Table 5.
A few of the advantages and disadvantages of static, flat monitors vs. head-mounted
displays, in the context of the present review.
Technology Advantages Disadvantages
Fixed monitors
Better precision Expensive
Easier registration Limited motion range
More control over experiments Not immersive
Relatively affordable Poor research coverage
Enables AR Calibration required
3 degrees of freedom
A relevant challenge in designing user tests that yield meaningful impact in this
specific field of research is that of participant recruitment; as with any other medical
specialty field, it is important to have a sufficiently big dataset to analyze by involving
a significant number of users, especially when carrying out between-subjects tests (e.g.,
residents vs. experienced neurosurgeons). Only seven of the 31 (23%) studies presented in
this review collected data from 50 participants or more, and the overall average across all
studies amounted to fewer than 31 participants; when only considering medical students,
neurosurgical residents, and interns, who are the primary user base for such educational
applications, the average drops to slightly above 24, with only five studies (16%) collecting
data from 50 participants of these categories or more. This observation highlights the need
for recruiting larger pools of test subjects. Again, developing XR applications that are
scalable and accessible onto widespread commercial devices, such as HMDs, could help
amplify both the cohort sizes and the overall number of studies, empowering the evidence
base surrounding this topic.
In the present review, we arbitrarily divided neurosurgical education into assessment
of skills, training or practicing, and acquisition of procedural knowledge. Studies consid-
ered here were then categorized according to their main subject of focus among these three
aspects, albeit it is worth clarifying that not all papers address a single specific aspect of
education and not all of them do so in the same way. An example is the possible approaches
researchers can take in skill assessment: an XR system can be developed with the specific
aim of enabling self-assessment and appreciation by the users themselves, or evaluation
and selection by experienced neurosurgeons. The boundaries between these arbitrary
labels can thus at times be blurry; nevertheless, we can still infer conclusions from the
overall distribution of papers across different groups. Specifically, studies on procedural
knowledge acquisition are the least common, focus on a variety of medical practices, and
cover a total of six different devices (Table 2); this in turn suggests that more research
addressing this particular aspect of education through longitudinal experiments is needed,
with the aim of observing learning curves in test subjects when acquiring new skills.
Moreover, UX, despite being a component of major importance in the development
of educational applications, has so far been focused on in a limited and non-scalable
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 14 of 20
approach. As mentioned in previous sections, less than half of the papers presented here
address the topic, and only one of them employs standardized, validated questionnaires to
assess different measures of UX which, despite not being specifically related to the kind of
procedure considered (ventriculostomy), allow for an easier interpretation and comparison
of the proposed results with other—past and future—studies. Other publications present
a varied and novel set of custom questionnaire items which delve to a certain extent into
procedure-related aspects, or more generally assess a heterogeneous combination of UX
factors, such as usefulness and realism. Although such experimental designs can yield
meaningful results that can be used to estimate the impact of the study on the research
field, a comparison with related work, as well as bias avoidance and formal validation
of the chosen approach, can be challenging. This, in turn, may partially undermine the
quality of the proposed conclusions, especially for those papers in which UX questionnaire
items were proposed by the authors without any theoretical foundations to them. Of these
types of survey items, task difficulty and consistency with real practices are particularly
relevant when developing XR-based educational applications; however, only few studies
(n = 4 in both cases) include them when evaluating the related proposed applications.
Possible reasons for this are existing challenges in objectively defining task difficulty, and
partial redundancies in perceived realism—which is at times addressed with more or
less specificity, even multiple times in a single survey. In order to address this issue,
standardized questionnaires (e.g., SUS, NASA TLX, and others) need to be consistently
employed and, in future research, novel questionnaires that are more specific to the field of
neurosurgery need to be developed.
Compared to UX, UP is the subject of most attention throughout the 31 papers pre-
sented in this review. User performance is a broad term that refers to relevant aspects of
performed surgical simulations, such as eye–hand coordination, manual dexterity, success
metrics, and kinematic coordination, to name a few. Most often, metrics of UP are assessed
by experienced neurosurgeons or by test subjects themselves after the surgical simulation,
which, despite any attempt at avoiding bias, can still be influenced by human factors and
therefore lead to inaccuracies in assessment. Additionally, by involving human actors in the
measurement and judgment of surgical performance, comparison of results across multiple
studies (and even within longitudinal ones) may be biased, hence lowering the overall
quality of the proposed conclusions.
A number of studies have dealt with this issue by employing metrics that are computed
automatically—and oftentimes in real time—by the same system that the simulation is
performed with; in particular, those focusing on more established types of procedure
(i.e., tumor resection, ventriculostomy, aneurysm clipping) present a more structured
and “advanced” set of metrics when compared to procedures considered in fewer studies.
Possible explanations for this trend are the higher amount of research revolving around
XR-based neurosurgical education within certain types of surgical practices, and also
the lack of any type of optical tracking in the NeuroVR and ImmersiveTouch systems,
which in turn partially enables an easier automatic assessment of UP. We can speculate
that, in such cases as trigeminal rhizotomy, endoscopy, and cauterization, the adoption
of detailed objective UP metrics that are assessed automatically is still underdeveloped
and therefore future research could compensate for that. More in general, future research
on XR applications to neurosurgical education can possibly focus on the replacement of
humans with artificial intelligence (AI) systems in the measuring of UP. When comparing
different subject groups, we show that not all UP metrics seem to distinguish experienced
neurosurgeons from residents and medical students. Knowing which metrics to use in
order to accurately assess skills can be a challenge, which is where machine learning comes
into play. In future research, such an approach could aid in assessing performance by
looking at overall performance instead of specific metrics. This has already been attempted
by two studies included in this review [
], with the aim of accurately assigning users to
their corresponding expertise level.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 15 of 20
An essential contributing factor to the quality of the learning experience is the sense
of realism as experienced by users when performing surgical simulations in an XR envi-
ronment. Realism in this context refers to the fidelity of imagery, interaction, and context
of an XR application, and quantifies how closely resembling a real-life scenario the visual
(and tactile) stimuli are in the mind of the users. The more realistic the simulation is, the
higher the quality of the education is [
]. This is currently addressed in present research
through non-standardized questionnaires which, despite covering a broad range of facets
within realism itself, have so far recorded inconclusive results on the matter. It is, in fact,
unclear whether, when comparing subject groups with different levels of expertise (e.g.,
residents vs. experienced neurosurgeons vs. medical students), less experienced users find
the simulation environment more realistic than experienced users, or vice versa. Significant
impact may in this context be brought about with the use of surgical phantoms in simulated
surgeries, a practice that has already been explored much in previous research—including
that within the field of cranial neurosurgery—with solid conclusions stating their use-
fulness. By employing such phantoms in educational applications, thus implementing
so-called augmented virtuality (AV), perceived realism of the experience can arguably
benefit from the registration of the physical object with the virtual counterpart (also known
as digital twin).
With the present systematic review, we aimed at shedding light on the plethora of
recent research on the topic of extended reality applied to cranial neurosurgery. As shown
in multiple studies [
], such technology can have a significant impact on the quality of
education intended as training and practicing, skill assessment, and procedural knowledge
acquisition. Not only does it enable immersive, realistic simulation of surgical practices
in any place and at any time, but it also breaks the boundaries of traditional teaching by
expanding it with detailed 3D models of the anatomy, haptic force feedback, automatic
performance measurements, and more. While extensive research has already been carried
out in other surgical specialties on the topic (including spinal neurosurgery), the specific
field of cranial neurosurgery is still in its infancy when it comes to applying XR technologies
to educational applications. Nevertheless, studies introduced here present solid results
to prove the potential usefulness of such an approach, including when compared to or
complementing traditional tutoring and teaching. In this perspective, less experienced
users generally appreciate it more than the more experienced counterpart, with only a
single study suggesting no difference between subject groups. Assessment of learning
curves among trainees such as neurosurgical residents and medical students, as well as
comparisons with that of experienced surgeons, show that in surgeries with a lesser degree
of variability in their operative conditions (such as ventriculostomy), the performance
improvement over time tends to be greater than that in other surgeries (in particular,
tumor resection).
Ventriculostomy is typically uniform in its course; thus, successful outcomes resulting
from this procedure are highly relying on anatomical knowledge and experience, unlike
tumor resection surgeries where monotony is practically absent, which ascribes the skills
and dexterity of the surgeon a much bigger role. Hence, improvements are hard to visualize
on the modest follow-up timeline provided by most longitudinal studies. In fact, it was
found that UP improvements in tumor resection were either non-significant or much more
subtle [
] as compared to those witnessed for ventriculostomy [
]. Along the same
lines, in both tumor resection studies [
], more training sessions (four and five, respec-
tively) were required to detect even the small improvements in UP, as compared to studies
reporting on ventriculostomy procedures, where a single training session was sufficient to
significantly improve UP both immediately [
] and at a 47-day average follow-up [
In summary, the findings described seem to indicate that some surgical procedures may
require longer training durations as compared to others, and that studies considering
such procedures ought to expand their timeline in order for the desired outcomes to be
correctly appreciated.
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 16 of 20
In our opinion, the true value of this innovative technology ultimately lies in im-
provement of both quality of patient care and operative outcomes. Despite the fact that
only a small number of studies (n = 3) projected the benefits of training in XR settings
on live-patient operator performances [
], the results obtained thus far all proved
promising, with increased overall success rates in favor of XR-trained residents. This pro-
vides insightful knowledge on the effectiveness of XR simulation in improvement of patient
outcomes, and highlights the need for taking the research on this topic one step further
with a more patient-centered focus and a larger pool of both participants and patients.
5.1. Limitations
As for the limitations to this review, an exclusively user-centered approach was
adopted to study the impact of this technology on the field of interest, while system-
related performance metrics, constrained to the capabilities of the technologies employed,
were not considered. Additionally, we only performed a narrative synthesis of the major
trends in current research, while meta-analysis of the data was not attempted due to the
high heterogeneity with regards to populations, comparators, and outcome metrics.
5.2. Future Perspective
Finally, we suggest that research employing diversified XR technologies (such as
HMDs) to monitor mid- to long-term improvements in trainee surgical simulation per-
formance through longitudinal within-subjects studies could help confirm conclusions
presented in previous work, both in the field of cranial neurosurgery and in the broader
field of education in medicine. Moreover, we propose that an accurate analysis of biome-
chanical factors, measured automatically by capturing body and hand movements in real
time during surgical simulation, could improve the evaluation of users’ dexterity and
eye–hand coordination when performing specific surgical procedures. Through a compar-
ison of trainee skills with those of experienced neurosurgeons, appreciation of learning
curves in an extended timespan would be enabled and, ultimately, access to high-level
education would be open to residents and medical students all over the world. Eventually,
detailed and precise computation of performance metrics via the implementation of AI
in XR systems would decrease the need for expert assessment when monitoring trainee
improvements, thus facilitating the acquisition of procedural knowledge related to cranial
neurosurgical procedures.
Supplementary Materials:
The following supporting information can be downloaded at https:
//, File S1: PRISMA 2020 checklist, title, File S2:
elaborate description of search strategy creation, File S3: Search strategy and queries used in each
database, File S4: Extended Risk of Bias table.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization: A.I., V.G.E.-H., F.M.M., A.d.G., E.E., A.E.-T. and M.R. Data
collection, selection, and extraction: A.I., V.G.E. and M.G. Data interpretation: A.I., V.G.E.-H., M.G.,
E.E., A.E.-T. and M.R. Writing—original draft preparation: A.I., V.G.E.-H. and M.G. Writing—review
and editing: A.I., V.G.E.-H., M.G., F.M.M., A.d.G., E.E., A.E.-T., and M.R. Supervision: M.R. All
authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This work is partially funded by Innovationsfonden 2022. Grant number: FoUI-941760.
Data Availability Statement: All data used were openly available.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors state no conflicts of interest.
AI Artificial intelligence
AR Augmented reality
AV Augmented virtuality
ETV Endoscopic third ventriculostomy
HMD Head-mounted display
Sensors 2022,22, 6067 17 of 20
MR Mixed reality
NOS-E Newcastle–Ottawa Scale-Education
OR Operating room
PICO Population, intervention, comparators, outcome
PRISMA Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses
PROSPERO International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews
SUS System Usability Scale
TLX Task load index
UP User performance
UX User experience
VR Virtual reality
XR Extended reality
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... In the present paper, we propose a set of metrics for the assessment of outcomes in XR simulations of surgical operations, specifically in the field of cranial neurosurgery. From this perspective, this narrower field of research comes with a partially different set of challenges when compared to, for instance, spinal neurosurgery, and, as we have previously shown, has so far been relatively uncharted territory for educational XR technologies [11]. Nevertheless, our proposed set of metrics can be applied to other types of surgery where procedural knowledge acquisition and transfer involves precise and efficient hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. ...
... In a recent systematic review, we surveyed the adoption of XR technologies, with varying degrees of augmentation, in cranial neurosurgical education [11]. There, we defined education as a combination of learning, practicing and skill assessment, with the goal of acquiring the necessary knowledge to successfully perform a surgical procedure. ...
... Systematic review of metrics used in XR cranial neurosurgical training classified by educational setting. Based on[11]. ...
Full-text available
The adoption of Extended Reality (XR) technologies for supporting learning processes is an increasingly popular research topic for a wide variety of domains, including medical education. Currently, within this community, the metrics applied to quantify the potential impact these technologies have on procedural knowledge acquisition are inconsistent. This paper proposes a practical definition of standard metrics for the learning goals in the application of XR to surgical training. Their value in the context of previous research in neurosurgical training is also discussed. Objective metrics of performance include: spatial accuracy and precision, time-to-task completion, number of attempts. The objective definition of what the learner’s aims are enables the creation of comparable XR systems that track progress during training. The first impact is to provide a community-wide metric of progress that allows for consistent measurements. Furthermore, a measurable target opens the possibility for automated performance assessments with constructive feedback.
... The integration of XR technologies, in particular AR and MR, in education has gained significant attention in recent years, providing different and effective applications for teaching concepts and skills in different fields of study [1,4,17,20,47,50,51]. ...
... In educational contexts, AR and MR have the advantage of supporting digital objects blend with the surrounding objects and environment [1,8,17,51]. In addition, features such as advanced 3D model visualization, manipulation, and real object augmentation, are often put to good use to encourage and increase teaching and learning efficacy [5,12,19,21]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Extended Reality (XR) has gained significant attention, offering novel pathways for learning based on the sharing of 3D content. Nevertheless, additional efforts should be spent to understand the advantages set forth by Cross-Reality (CR) scenarios, for example including Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) experiences in the context of remote live-streaming classes. In this process, a necessary step entails designing, implementing, and making educational tools available in an open-source format. To this aim, we present HOCTOPUS, a CR system designed to support live remote teaching. HOCTOPUS provides a cross-reality educational experience: an MR application for teachers and an AR mobile app for students. HOCTOPUS lets teachers visualize, manipulate, and share 3D objects in a live-streaming fashion, supporting bi-directional communication and interactions with all students. The MR component is developed for the Hololens 2, offering flexible manipulation capabilities, while the AR component runs on Android mobile devices, providing affordable interactive visualization and manipulation. The proposed tool may be used as a building block to enhance the learning process and is made available to the educational community for its use, assessment, and extension.
... Although MR systems have been used as a teaching tool for simulation in adult neurosurgery, their use in children is comparatively unexplored [15]. Furthermore, our literature search reveals that most of the publications on neurosurgical MR applications stem from Europe and North America [9,16,17]. Overall, similar systems for pediatric neurosurgery from our part of the world in Southeast Asia remain underrepresented at this point in time. ...
... A free-text box is provided for the participant to give additional comments at the end of the survey. Of note, the rationale for using this method of evaluation is based on contemporary studies on MR use in the clinical and/or medical education setting for the neurosurgery [16]. A diagram of this study's outline is illustrated in Figure 1. ...
Full-text available
Mixed reality (MR) platforms for neurosurgical education, training, and clinical use have gained popularity in recent years. However, their use in pediatric neurosurgery is comparatively unexplored. We designed a study to explore the use of an MR-based application for pediatric brain tumors. The primary aim is to determine if the use of MR provides the neurosurgical team with a better understanding of the visuospatial anatomy of neoplasms in pediatric craniums and to guide operative planning. Secondary aims include exploring its use as an educational tool for junior doctors and medical students. Methods: Three-dimensional anatomical models of selected pediatric brain tumors are created and uploaded to an MR application. The processed data is transferred into designated MR head-mounted devices. At the end of the trial, users are required to fill in an evaluation form. Results: A total of 30 participants took part in this study. Based on the collated feedback data, all of them agreed that the MR platform was useful as a tool in different aspects of understanding the selected pediatric brain tumors. Conclusions: This study demonstrates a proof of concept of the feasibility of MR platforms for a better understanding of pediatric brain tumors. Further development is needed to refine the current setup to be more versatile.
... From a scientific point of view, the formal measurement of the impact of simulation systems on different variables related to the surgical technique and obtained clinical results is of particular interest. Furthermore, the evaluation of the surgical conduct in the presence of the simulation system promotes clinical training, specifically steepening the learning curve, and most importantly increasing patient safety [26]. ...
Pediatric central nervous system tumors are the primary solid malignancies in children and remain a leading cause of mortality in infancy. Advances in pediatric neuro-oncology, driven by molecular oncology research, emphasize the critical need for high-quality pathological tissue to support advanced molecular investigations. However, the vast heterogeneity of these tumors requires precise discrimination of collection sites, aligning with preoperative imaging data. Surgical resection, a pivotal step in diagnosis and treatment, could result in potential morbidities influencing children's neurological status. This, in turn, affects the feasibility of subsequent oncological treatments, influencing overall prognosis and quality of life. To address these challenges, technological tools enhance neurosurgeon orientation in pre-surgical planning and resection. While stereotactic navigation systems reduce morbidity, limitations persist in providing only two-dimensional anatomical information. Recent developments in 3D surgical simulation and virtual reality revolutionize procedural planning, offering real-time integration with intraoperative navigation systems. Beyond surgery, virtual reality has potential in case discussions, preoperative planning, and operative guidance, aiming to improve care and patient outcomes. The virtual reality experience, coupled with detailed anatomical visualization, facilitates meticulous surgical strategy planning for minimal invasiveness. Despite expanding literature on virtual reality applications in neurosurgery, pediatric neurosurgical oncology experiences remain limited. Scientific evaluation of simulation systems' impact on techniques and outcomes, combined with advances in neuroimaging, offers promise for adapting surgical approaches based on neoplastic brain lesion behavior. In conclusion, incorporating 3D surgical simulation and virtual reality technologies in pediatric neurosurgical oncology holds substantial benefits, offering improved procedural planning, enhanced precision, and patient-specific adaptation. Despite limited reported experiences, the compelling advantages underscore the need for further exploration and consideration in the evolving landscape of pediatric neuro-oncology.
... Several researchers also emphasized the importance of AR in teaching and reducing the learning curve for surgical skills acquisition [41,49]. Our consortium compared the effect of AR-guidance and standardized training on the quality of external ventricular drain placement on a phantom model, by medical students. ...
Full-text available
Augmented reality (AR) for surgical navigation is a relatively new but rapidly evolving and promising field. AR can add navigation to the surgical workflow in a more intuitive way, improving ergonomics and precision. Neurosurgery has a long tradition in computer-assisted surgical navigation and was the first discipline to use this technology to navigate interventions. Orthopedic surgery is following this path with a wide range of new use cases currently in development. In this chapter, we will describe the evolution of AR as a surgical navigation tool, focusing on application developed for neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. Based on our own experience, we will also discuss future perspectives and the hurdles to be overcome before the widespread breakthrough of this technology.
... In addition, a thorough appraisal of the risk of bias in the studies included was performed using the Newcastle-Ottawa scale (NOS) [73] for non-randomized studies and the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for the randomized controlled trial. A similar methodology was adopted in previous works [18,19,30,70]. Neurosurgery and spine surgery n/a Comparator n/a n/a Outcome Areas of use, advantages and disadvantages, radiation exposure n/a Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. ...
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Background Hybrid operating rooms (hybrid-ORs) combine the functionalities of a conventional surgical theater with the advanced imaging technologies of a radiological suite. Hybrid-ORs are usually equipped with CBCT devices providing both 2D and 3D imaging capability that can be used for both interventional radiology and image guided surgical applications. Across all fields of surgery, the use of hybrid-ORs is gaining in traction, and neurosurgery is no exception. We hence aimed to comprehensively review the use of hybrid-ORs, the associated advantages, and disadvantages specific to the field of neurosurgery. Materials and methods Electronic databases were searched for all studies on hybrid-ORs from inception to May 2022. Findings of matching studies were pooled to strengthen the current body of evidence. Results Seventy-four studies were included in this review. Hybrid-ORs were mainly used in endovascular surgery (n = 41) and spine surgery (n = 33). Navigation systems were the most common additional technology employed along with the CBCT systems in the hybrid-ORs. Reported advantages of hybrid-ORs included immediate assessment of outcomes, reduced surgical revision rate, and the ability to perform combined open and endovascular procedures, among others. Concerns about increased radiation exposure and procedural time were some of the limitations mentioned. Conclusion In the field of neurosurgery, the use of hybrid-ORs for different applications is increasing. Hybrid-ORs provide preprocedure, intraprocedure, and end-of-procedure imaging capabilities, thereby increasing surgical precision, and reducing the need for postoperative imaging and correction surgeries. Despite these advantages, radiation exposure to patient and staff is an important concern.
... A similar methodology has been described in several of our previous works. [44][45][46][47] ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION Ethics approval is not required for this systematic review as it is based on existing publications. The review is planned to take place between the months of February and August of the year of 2023. ...