Learning and retaining simulated arthroscopic meniscal repair skills.
Jackson WFM., Khan T., Alvand A., Al-Ali S., Gill HS., Price AJ., Rees JL.
BACKGROUND: Previous studies of task-specific skills have suggested that a loss of technical performance occurs if the skill is not practiced for a six-month period. The aims of this study were to objectively demonstrate the learning curve for a complex arthroscopic task (meniscal repair) by means of motion analysis and to determine the impact of task repetition on the retention of this skill. METHODS: Nineteen orthopaedic residents with experience in routine knee arthroscopy but not in arthroscopic meniscal repair were recruited into a randomized study. During the initial learning phase, all subjects performed twelve meniscal repairs on a knee simulator over a three-week period. A validated motion analysis tracking system was used to objectively record the performance and learning of each subject; the outcomes were the time taken, distance traveled, and number of hand movements. The subjects were then randomized into three groups. Group A performed one meniscal repair each month, Group B performed one meniscal repair at three months, and Group C performed no repairs during this interim phase. All three groups then returned at the six-month point for the final assessment phase, during which they carried out an additional twelve meniscal repairs over three weeks. RESULTS: All subjects demonstrated a clear learning curve during the initial learning phase, with significant objective improvement in all motion analysis parameters over the initial twelve episodes (p < 0.0001). Although some residents had reached a learning plateau by twelve episodes, others continued to make further improvements for up to another nine episodes. Importantly, Group C did not display any loss of skill between the initial learning phase and final evaluation phase despite a six-month break in task repetition (p > 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: In contrast to previous studies, residents did not lose any skill over a six-month interruption in task performance, and other residents took longer to produce a more consistent performance.