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Medical Mannequins Provide Realistic Simulation for Patient Care

Computer technology has helped make great advances in medicine over the last decade. Practitioners now have new devices to train for medical emergencies.

SimMan speaks: "Oh, I can't breathe my chest hurts, help."

He talks. He breathes. SimMan is, in many ways, just like a real person, but not quite. He is a high-tech medical mannequin.

“The technology actually evolved out of flight simulation," explains Joe Huse, who works for Laerdal as a medical education specialist.

Joe Huse started working with flight simulators but now trains paramedics to work with the SimMan mannequin, made by the Laerdal medical company. High tech medical mannequins, like SimMan, have been refined over the past decade, thanks to computer software advances, and can simulate a wide range bodily functions.

Of the benefits, Joe says, “He can be treated. He has an airway that can be both normal and abnormal so he can develop adverse reactions to drugs. His tongue can swell and his vocal cords can close. He can go into respiratory arrest. He can go into cardiac failure. He can be resuscitated. Physicians can even practice doing a bronchoscophy on the airway because all the appropriate landmarks are there for doing bronchoscophy."

It is estimated that more than 50,000 patients die each year from medical mistakes made by physicians and paramedics. The mannequins mean early mistakes by new medical practitioners can be corrected before live patients suffer, says paramedic Nick Kelly, with a fire and rescue squad near Washington, DC. "Instead of them learning on a real honest to God patient," he says, "they are learning on a mannequin, before they go out and do it in the real world."

But is there still a danger that the technology could distance providers from the human touch that real patients need? "There is not a mannequin in this world that you can teach people to have good bedside manner," notes Mr. Kelly.

Gary Fitzsimmons, a lab manager at Northern Virginia Community College, showed some mannequins that can help acclimate new paramedics to the type of shocking injuries that they may encounter. "As you can see this gentleman has a little bit of a problem, has some facial and head lacerations," he said, describing the mannequin's "injuries."

Using mannequins can soften the blow to trainees when they first see badly injured patients, said paramedic Tom Jarman. "If they see something early on and they don't know how to handle that situation without being prepared through education," he said, "you could lose a valuable provider. They are just so overwhelmed because emergency scenes can be overwhelming."

At least half of U.S. medical schools now use simulators to teach students.