Med Students Getting Hands-On Experience With Robotic Patients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Training doctors in surgery or real world emergencies is going high-tech.

It used to be they had to work on a real person while an experience doctor watched over the med student or resident.

But as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, there’s now a better way — with robots and mannequins.

It’s similar to the airline industry, which puts pilots in simulators and throws all sorts of situations and emergencies at them so when the real thing happens, they’ve seen it before.

That’s now how doctors are learning. It’s not the way you may have seen it on TV. The motor vehicle trauma victim is actually a super-sophisticated mannequin, but the situation is very real.

The victim’s voice and prompts come from senior doctors who are tasked with throwing complications at the doctors in training. The mannequin’s chest moves with breathing, it’s eyes blink, and it even has an electrocardiogram and blood pressure reader.

Even the medications the doctors give have sensors in them that tell the professors what and how much is being given.

“The anxiety and the pressure of the acute setting can sometimes cause you to not think appropriately, so now we’ve been able to recreate that environment and let you recognize that you do know how to approach that and if you make a mistake it’s okay and we’ll be able to teach you and guide you to what to do next time so the outcome is different,” Dr. Anthony Watkins from Weill Cornell Medical College said.

Simulations are important, even in things that are usually routine, such as delivering a baby.

But things can go wrong sometimes.

The medical mannequins provide real world experience. One example features a robotic pregnant woman with her newborn baby.

“The level of realism enables us to look at teamwork, look at communication factors,” Dr. Elizabeth Hunt from the Johns Hopkins Medicine Simulation Center said. “It engages the learner much more than when it was a static white room.”

A group of OB-GYN residents gain experience on a newborn as their professor watches every move. Mistakes are treated as learning opportunities.

“You know, if you make a mistake you know you’re not actually going to hurt them,” Dr. Amy Manzo from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said. “You can take the lessons you learn here in the simulation center and apply them to your real patients.”

Simulation labs like the ones at Weill Cornell and Johns Hopkins are very expensive — the mannequins alone can cost a couple hundred thousand dollars — but it’s worth it to produce better trained doctors while ensuring patient safety in the process.

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