One of the largest veterinary schools in the world, Utrecht University, has recently installed Haptic Horse from Virtalis.
Dr Mathijs Theelen, assistant professor in equine internal medicine, commented: “Our combined Haptic Horse and Cow was installed in April and we have already integrated these into our teaching schedule as part of our Pre-Clinical Week. All our students, regardless of their species-specific track, now use the Haptic Horse. Students following the equine track are completing the advanced level, exploring all the varied colic abnormalities that the system is able to replicate.”
At the heart of both systems is the Geomagic PHANTOM haptic device from 3D Systems. This instrument makes it possible for users to touch and palpate virtual objects. In addition, because the animal’s organs are visible on the computer monitor, the instructor can see exactly what the student is doing and direct the movements. The Haptic Horse offers students the opportunity to learn how to carry out a systematic rectal examination of the abdomen of normal horses, as well as those who are suffering from colic, with abnormalities such as dilated loops of the small intestine (twisted gut), a pelvic flexure impaction (obstipation) or displacements of other parts of the large colon.
Both Haptic Cow and Haptic Horse were developed by UK veterinarian, Prof Sarah Baillie, and Virtalis markets and supports the systems around the world.
Theelen continued: “We have a big caseload, but we have a strict policy that in most cases only one or two students are allowed to palpate the horse after their tutor. We therefore cannot guarantee that each student will experience all the variety of displacements and abnormalities of the intestine. We also find that, when students are performing a rectal exam in a live horse for the first time, they tend to be nervous and aren’t therefore fully focussing on the task in hand. The Haptic Horse addresses these problems, making students more ready to learn from their first examination in a live horse by enabling virtual experiences of all the types of colic.”
The Utrecht veterinary students have been enthusiastic about the Haptic Horse experience. Their tutors have found it has markedly increased confidence in the students’ live animal examinations. “It has definitely improved their ability to locate organs like the kidneys, spleen and intestine”, said Theelen. “I suppose that haptics hones their 3D spatial awareness, plus we can assess them in the Haptic Horse, whereas we can’t assess them in a real horse. We are a busy department with a throughput of 225 students per year, so one massive advantage of the Haptic Horse is you can just switch it on and use it, as all the different displacements of colic are pre-programmed in. It is very user friendly and time efficient.”