Meet the Robot Helping to Save Real Lives

SimMan 3G is improving health care one mannequin at a time


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SimMan 3G // Photograph Courtesy of Henry Ford Hospital

This patient blinks and breathes just like any other. But there’s one key difference, and it’s significant — he, or rather it, is not real.

SimMan 3G is a high-quality training system improving health care one mannequin at a time. The patient simulator is manufactured by Laerdal Medical, a leading provider of education, training, and therapy products for emergency care. With a simple yet poignant mission of saving lives, the Norwegian company’s current aim is to help rescue 500,000 more people every year by 2020 to contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages, by 2030.

SimMan 3G boasts an impressive set of programmable abilities, from sitting down to replicating breathing complications. The realism it brings to the table, surgical and otherwise, provides nurses, physicians, and emergency medical technicians the opportunity to improve time management, decision-making, and vital communication among departments during the most critical moments of treatment.

Many facilities use simulation to improve medical care, and Henry Ford Health System is just one of them. Last December, the Center for Simulation, Education, and Research at Henry Ford Hospital rang in its 10th anniversary with an upgraded version of its already extensive collection of simulators. SimMan 3G helped celebrate a decadelong dedication to state-of-the-art learning for health care professionals. The center provides more than 14,000 participants a risk-free environment where advanced computers and mannequins simulate medical conditions so that health care providers can practice and augment their skills.

Dr. Craig Reickert, director of the center and division head of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, finds that simulation mannequins provide better realism for participants, particularly health professionals, than other methods. The monitors attached to the simulators report vital signs that correspond to the mannequin’s conditions — convulsions and bleeding, for example. Many programs such as clinical residencies require simulation training, and so facilities like the center, with its innovative learning environment, take education from lectures and present plausible medical scenarios not unlike the ones a future physician may encounter someday.

Reickert says that in such an environment, the “learner can make a mistake and not cause harm to the patient.” The Center for Simulation, Education, and Research specializes in providing medical professionals the opportunity to practice and perfect their abilities, so that patients like a 95-year-old grandmother with heart disease or a 5-year-old boy with a broken arm can receive high quality, patient-centered care.

Whether via mannequins or standardized patients — people trained to emulate specific medical cases — participants can be more emotionally invested and mentally active during simulation exercises, Reickert notes. With real-time feedback from monitors and patients, they’re more capable of recognizing the gravity of situations and responding accordingly. This realism allows content to “stick” better for adult learners, and when it does, it means better care for actual patients with authentic symptoms.

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