Today you get to know our Engineering and R&D Director Sébastien. He leads the engineering effort behind the Sim-Ortho simulator, he is an expert in simulation software development, virtual reality, haptic systems in the MedTech sector.
Can you tell us about your experience in the field of medical technology?
After my first ten years of experience in research, I decided to go work in the private sector because I realized that I wanted to focus on product development. More specifically, I wanted to harness my knowledge of technology and give it a more practical purpose. I also spent three years outside of the medical field entirely, in order to improve my knowledge of software design, which eventually led me to OSSimTech.
What is your role at OSSimTech?
I do it all (laughs). My official position is Director of Engineering. I take care of the technical work, which includes supervising tech teams and artistic collaborators – everyone working toward the final product, so that we can refine its technological capacities. I also supervise production and quality control, from the moment that an idea is conceived until its eventual creation.
How are you able to manage such large teams?
It’s manageable through proper time management, and of course, our team leaders. With team leaders, we can break down the teams into smaller groups. We make it work.
How did you decide to pursue a career at OSSimTech?
I’ve always wanted to involve myself in a surgical technology startup. I dreamt of working with a community of likeminded individuals in the technical field, but hadn’t previously found the right business environment and partners to make it happen. I also didn’t feel like I was ready to take on such a huge endeavour by myself. However, at the beginning of 2016, I witnessed the launch of the first prototype of OSSimTech at Radio Canada and recognized some familiar faces working at the company. I decided to contact them, and got in touch with André, whom I already knew from the NRC. At the time, OSSimTech was in its early, start-up phase. There was barely any funding or available resources for them to hire anyone. Nine months later, when they finally received external funding, André reached out and made me an offer to join the team. It was a dream come true for me.
You mentioned that you already knew André from your time at the NRC. What was his role?
Yes, we would cross paths occasionally. He was an entrepreneur and marketed various healthcare technologies.
When people think of virtual reality, they have a particular image in mind. But your Sim-Ortho simulator has a unique appeal. What motivated your decision to pursue this distinct technology? Can you tell us a bit about it? For instance, why include two separate screens?
Primarily, we use three-dimensional glasses and a 3D screen to put the end user in a convincing 3D environment. This technology has the advantage of putting forth a realistic VR environment that has a much higher resolution than the VR headsets. The high-definition images are crucial when simulating a surgical setting. We also implemented haptic feedback systems in order for the end user to feel resistance when touching or cutting tissues. It is vital for surgeons in training to receive accurate feedback to develop their tactility. Surgery is a very physical activity, so we wanted to capture the way that real medical tools feel, their exact form, to make the experience as real as possible. Finally, the second screen serves as an interface for the simulator, to navigate the menu and provide the user with additional information about the particular procedure, such as x-ray view.
What challenges did you face while implementing this new technology?
Developing medical procedures in virtual reality is difficult because we need to capture the exact movements and bodily habits of every single surgery. Simulators also need to be available for surgeons to practice daily, at their convenience, even in between surgeries for fifteen minutes or half an hour at a time, if time permits. The challenge lies in assuring that the simulators are in close proximity, to be used at the surgeons’ disposal. It’s a question of logistics. Simulation centres are convenient for bootcamps or other prolonged training sessions but have other disadvantages, such as an increased distance from the operating room. We need to find a way to implement simulators into the daily routine of medical professionals. These are issues that need to be addressed.
Do you foresee the use of virtual reality in medical school, during university training? How effective do you think it might be?
It’s definitely possible to introduce VR at this early stage of medical training, even just to get the students used to the simulator. Ideally, academic spaces will adapt and embrace advanced medical technologies, as there is so much to learn about the effect of each movement. Hands-on training goes beyond reading a textbook or attending a lecture – it immerses you into the practice directly. As in the aviation industry, surgeons, like pilots, could complete a standardized number of hours on the simulator as part of their training. The simulator should then complement traditional methods of medical education. Of course, virtual reality is also beneficial for residents and established professionals, any time they need to refresh their memories. Just as great musicians need to practice their instruments daily, it is important for surgeons to continuously sharpen their skills. During surgery, however, the stakes are very high. It’s a performance that needs to be executed flawlessly.
How can your simulator benefit the medical sector?
First and foremost, we want to assure that our product is of an optimal quality. Medical errors are one of the leading causes of death, and a portion of these deaths derive from surgical mistakes, specifically. We need to elevate our standards. VR technology offers so many new opportunities to reduce human error because it allows the surgeon to foresee any surgical complications that can arise during the actual procedure. With our simulator, you can recreate situations and even make the same mistake over and over again until you finally get it right. VR offers increased access to direct experience in a way that can significantly impact peoples’ lives.
What do you like most about being a part of the OSSimTech Team?
OSSimTech has the particularity of being both a research lab and a game studio, the team includes smart scientists, dynamic game developers and talented 3D artists. This creates a very fun work environment.
What do you hope to accomplish in the near future?
I want to help establish OSSimTech as a world player in the simulation field. Montreal is known as a leading city in medical innovation and video game design. These factors intersect in our business, which makes Montreal the ideal location to explore new medical technologies. This is where we want to break new ground.
How did you organize the simulator’s modules?
We believe to have found the best available technology to train surgeons. Now we need to continue creating content that is most clinically and scientifically valid and relevant, including an increased number of dynamic and diverse surgical clinical cases. We are working with various medical, technical, and academic communities in order to do this. Essentially, we’re trying to build a base that encompasses all forms of orthopedic surgery – the spine, trauma, knee + tool handling modules. We’re also starting to develop modules for trauma. We want to cover as much as possible, beginning with the most common procedures, and then expanding the simulator’s content to cover more complex surgeries and rare cases.