R2-D2 helps out

The life-size mannequin is on a gurney, hooked up to an IV and an ICU monitor that’s connected in turn to a desktop computer and projector. The medical student turns on the computer and picks “congestive heart failure.” Immediately, the mannequin starts moaning. Its chest heaves and it complains about shortness of breath. Then the voice of a respiratory therapist (RT) says, “We need to intubate!” A video tutorial appears on the monitor, complete with live footage of a tube passing through the vocal chords. “Are you ready?” asks the RT.

Welcome to the future of clinical education for would-be health care professionals. High fidelity patient simulators have evolved into full-scale mannequins that, for all intents and purposes, are sick people. They have lungs and make breathing sounds. They have heart tones and pulses with blood pressure readouts. They can even move their extremities, and they’re equipped with voice transmitters and eyes that react. The simulator is coordinated by a computerized model of physiologic simulation, so drugs and other therapy can be administered, resulting in real-time changes in vital signs. It’s a good question: “Are you ready?”

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