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Virtual surgery

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Virtual surgery

Anyone, from aspiring surgeons to serious gamers, can now use an iPhone to try their hand at surgery using the Bonedoc app from the University of Otago.

Bonedoc is the brainchild of Dr Phil Blyth, senior lecturer in eLearning in medicine and a practising emergency medicine doctor. He combined his surgical skills with his coding skills to develop the app in conjunction with Otago Innovation Limited, the University’s commercialisation arm.

The app enables the user to step into a virtual operating theatre to repair a hip fracture, realigning bones, fitting a plate and screws, and getting immediate feedback via Bonedoc’s x-ray function. When the operation is completed, the user’s efforts are automatically scored.

Blyth says inspiration for the app came while he was working as an orthopaedic registrar, learning surgical procedures by first watching and then being guided through the process.

“But I began to wonder why was I learning on a patient? Wasn’t there a way I could work out what I was doing outside of the operating theatre so that when I was there I could just do it?” he says.

“When you are operating, there are so many other distractions, but in the game you see what is actually making the difference without all those pressures,” he says. “It gives you feedback that is not possible in the real world.

“A big part of it is seeing all the steps and practising them over and over.”

Bonedoc is available from or the Apple AppStore. An android version is to be released this year.

Photo: Graham Warman