The training of healthcare professionals is essential to ensure the best results and guarantee the safety of patients, especially when involving invasive procedures. In order to aid this learning, Vall d’Hebron, together with the Eurecat technology center and Medical Simulator, have developed a high-precision simulator, Winco USG, to teach punctures under ultrasound control, which is expected to offer great improvements in a multitude of medical specialties, nursing, basic research and veterinary medicine. The device has been conceived by Dr. Xavier Serres, interventional radiologist of the Diagnostic Imaging Service of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and principal investigator of the Molecular Medical Imaging group of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR).

The use of ultrasound-guided interventional procedures is becoming increasingly popular in medicine because they are minimally invasive. “They are techniques that require great precision and that is why it is important to have good training tools to acquire the necessary skills before a healthcare professional performs their first ultrasound-guided puncture on a patient”, highlights Dr. Xavier Serres. For this purpose, systems based on animal organs, gelatine or professionalized silicone models are currently used. Although they are useful, they have limitations: they deteriorate rapidly and do not allow the quality of the procedure or the evolution of the professional’s technique to be measured.

Winco USG: a high-precision simulator ideal for learning

To offer new options for professionals in training, Vall d’Hebron, Eurecat and Medical Simulator have developed a simulator that avoids the limitations encountered by the usual systems. “Winco USG is a new technological platform, unique in the world, that allows learning to perform punctures under ultrasound control with millimetric precision, in real time and with infinite possibilities, without the need for ultrasound equipment”, assures Dr. Serres.

In addition, thanks to internal algorithms, it is possible to evaluate the quality of the punctures and obtain an immediate score. “This way, trainees can know the degree of acquisition of the minimum essential skills before performing the procedures on real patients“, says Dr. Serres.

A tool with great potential in medicine, nursing, research and veterinary

The system on which Winco USG is based allows great versatility in different health fields. On the one hand, this simulator can help in training in a multitude of medical specialties that use minimally invasive interventional procedures guided by ultrasound, such as biopsies, drainages, anesthesia for nerve plexus blocks, treatments administered inside tumors guided by ultrasound, amniocentesis, etc. In addition, it also has potential in nursing, for example, if ultrasound is needed to guide a blood extraction in cases where the veins are not palpable due to some pathology. And not only for the practice of procedures in humans, but also for use by veterinarians or researchers working with experimental models, to refine procedures and to perform ultrasound-guided punctures in animals.

The team that has developed the device also emphasizes that, although it has been designed to practice punctures, Winco USG is also useful for training in ultrasound procedures in which a puncture is not required, to improve fine psychomotor skills, to be ambidextrous and to learn how to perform ultrasound scans and interpret ultrasound images.

“In the field of training healthcare professionals from different disciplines, categories and roles, there is a growing need for simulation systems and environments. In this sense, we are proud to have contributed to the development of Winco USG, which will facilitate the learning of ultrasound techniques to future generations”, concludes Dr. Manel Escobar, clinical director of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and researcher of the Molecular Medical Imaging group at VHIR.

From the creation of an innovative device to its incorporation into the day-to-day training process

The Winco USG simulator is born out of the impulse of research and technological innovation in teaching of VHIR carried out for more than 10 years, when there was not yet this strong determination for the promotion of medical simulation. This simulator is an example of the commitment of VHIR, in collaboration with entities such as Eurecat and Medical Simulator, for innovation as a transformation engine to generate impact in the health sector. Over the last years, VHIR has become a global reference in the new healthcare ecosystems through projects such as this one.

The creation of the Vall d’Hebron Advanced Clinical Simulation Centre has been key to complete the development of Winco USG. Today, Winco USG is already on the market and the Vall d’Hebron Advanced Clinical Simulation Centre is the first center in the world to have this simulator and, from now on, it will begin to offer training with this simulator to all hospital residents and other professionals who perform guided punctures under ultrasound control.