At Alcon, we’re dedicated to helping people around the world see brilliantly. Our world-class associates leading the development of next-generation technologies and discovering novel solutions for patients help deliver on this mission.
This same approach of creativity, discovery and cutting-edge innovation is exemplified by Rustin Floyd, Global Director, Head of Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) Training & Education. Over his nearly 20 years with Alcon, Rustin has helped Alcon remain on the leading-edge of HCP training and education.
We sat down with Rustin to discuss Alcon’s Fidelis™ Virtual Reality (VR) Ophthalmic Surgical Simulator, an immersive, haptic VR Simulator that aims to improve training outcomes and bolster surgical confidence for novice surgeons around the globe.
Q&A with Rustin Floyd, Alcon’s Global Director, Head of Healthcare Practitioner Training and Education
Thanks for sitting down with us Rustin. To begin, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Rustin: Absolutely, I’ve been with Alcon for almost 20 years, and my current role involves training and the education of healthcare practitioners and surgeons-in-training. Specifically, my latest venture involves virtual reality to help surgeons around the world improve their surgical skillsets.
You previewed this Alcon Fidelis VR Ophthalmic Surgical Simulator at an important ophthalmology meeting – the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery 2022 (ASCRS 2022). Can you give us a brief explanation of what it is, how it works and what makes this tech special?
Rustin: The Alcon Fidelis VR Ophthalmic Surgical Simulator is a portable tool used to train cataract surgeons. When you put on the headset and enter the surgical simulator, you’re placed in a high-fidelity virtual operating room (OR), where you’re introduced to Alcon’s latest surgical innovations for cataract surgery. In addition, Fidelis welcomes community learning, remote coaching and encourages engagement within the ophthalmic community.
We spent years creating the Fidelis VR Simulator. It has haptic (touch) feedback that simulates the real-life sight, sound and touch you would experience with cataract surgery. It’s incredible to have tangible, tactile feedback using the simulator. For example, you feel real resistance when making incisions or placing pressure on the cornea.
Tell us more about this idea. How were you able to make this dream a reality?
Rustin: When I moved into my role as the Global Director and Head of HCP Training & Education, I was particularly interested in VR. And I remember thinking to myself, “there must be a way for Alcon to do something out of the box, something the industry had never seen before.”
So, years ago, we created essentially a theme park ride for ophthalmologists: the Alcon Virtual Eye Experience. This VR experience took you inside the anatomy of the eye and incorporated interactive training mechanics and poetic storytelling. We put it in front of the doctors, and they went crazy, proving that experiential VR can be a powerful, memorable tool that helps information stick. There began our journey with virtual reality.
How did that lead to the development of the Fidelis Simulator?
Rustin: A big driver for us in creating the Fidelis Simulator was actually COVID-19. Our pandemic silver lining was discovering there was an abundance of opportunities to be had in distance learning and remote coaching. We were exposed to the gamut of virtual learning environments that were born from necessity. We learned from those and tailored our virtual educational environments to those.
It’s been quite the journey from ideation to possessing the tangible piece of tech, to triaging the massive amounts of feedback we’ve received. As you mentioned, we previewed Fidelis at ASCRS, and we’re able to now address more nuanced feedback we received.
So, what’s next for the Fidelis VR Simulator?
Rustin: We’ve talked about the abilities of this device – the remote coaching, virtual instruction and communal training sessions for surgeons-in-training. These applications are going to be leveraged for truly positive work. As someone who's dedicated to education and training, I’m thrilled to see this first be available for Alcon’s Phaco Development (PD) program.
Alcon’s PD program was established in 2008, specifically under the initiative of offering sustainable cataract and patient care services to underserved communities. Phacoemulsification (phaco) is the industry standard for treatment of cataracts, and PD program allows surgeons to learn phacoemulsification techniques, join a community of ophthalmic surgeons, and receive post-training implementation support. As of this year, the program has trained nearly 5,500 surgeons, resulting in more than 7.5 million phaco cataract procedures.
Finally, Rustin, could you tell us how you’ve personally seen this technology improve training outcomes?
Rustin: Of course. I recently returned from a trip to Chennai and Delhi, India, where I demoed the Fidelis Simulator with several groups of surgeons. The reaction was fantastic – surgeons, Eye Care Professionals and their staff are excited about the impact this could have.
We already know surgical simulators can benefit and improve performance in the OR. One study of 18 novice surgeons with fewer than 75 independent surgeries performed showed a 38% improvement in OSACSS rating scale.1 But the best thing is actually getting to see this VR Simulator in action, knowing that with each training session, we’re taking another step toward helping every person see brilliantly.
- Skou Thomsen A, Bach-Holm D, Kjaerbo H, et al. Operating Room Performance Improves After Proficiency-Based Virtual Reality Cataract Surgery Training. National Institute of Health. 2017 April. Doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.11.015.Epub 2016 Dec 22. PMID: 28017423. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28017423/.