These days, it seems that robots are very busy delivering drugs in hospitals or replacing nurses, doctors and even surgeons. But robots also can replace human patients. For example, at McMaster University in Canada, medical students are using robo-patients to practice their clinical skills before they reach human patients. Their simulator lab training center features a $100,000 computerized, human-like robot that mimics bodily functions such as breathing or heartbeat. And there are other plans at McMaster and other universities to extend this kind of training program to all kinds of medical disciplines with a whole family of robo-patients.
Let's start with some details provided by McMaster University.
The new training lab features computer-operated medical equipment hooked up to what appears to be a real patient on an operating room table. In fact, the patient is a $100,000 computerized, human-like robot that mimics bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat, swelling and other changes in human conditions that might be experienced by an actual patient.
Medical students learn how to properly administer anesthesia and monitor the patient and medical equipment. A control room in the lab allows the instructor to watch the students and manipulate the mannequin's responses to mimic what might occur in a real-life situation. The patient's heart rate or breathing can change, and the throat or tongue can swell, requiring the students to think on their feet and make the necessary adjustments.
According to the Department of Anaesthesia at McMaster University, the acquisition of a Sim Man high fidelity anesthesia simulator have made this new education program possible.
But McMaster is not the only place hosting this kind of robo-patients. Here is an example of a Sim Man human patient simulator for pre-hospital provider training (Credit: Geisinger Health System, Danville, PA).
And below is another example of these robo-patients, which can "simulate almost any patient emergency situation and is programmable to provide the most life-like responses with immediate feedback for student learning" (Credit: Case Western Reserve University, Bolton School, Cleveland, OH).
Even at McMaster University, this use of simulation technology is about to increase in the near future.
The use of simulation technology at McMaster will expand significantly in coming months, as the School of Nursing uses government funding to establish another simulation lab, complete with a family of robo-patients. The lab will provide a virtual hospital experience in which nursing students can practise assessment and treatment, and apply their critical, problem-solving skills using anatomically-correct, computerized mannequins that can speak and simulate different medical conditions.
If you're a medical student, have you practiced with such a robot? And was it benefitial? Please tell me what were your thoughts during training.
Sources: Sue Johnston, McMaster University Daily News, December 1, 2005; and various web sites
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