State-of-the-art androids more human than ever

Last updated 05:00 20/02/2014
Hospital androids

SIMULATION: Trainee anesthetist Ryan Salter (right) leads an operating scenario with Sam the mannequin as his patient.

Sam the robot
MANNEQUIN: Sam is one of two hospital androids bought for $431,000.

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Call it a dummy's guide for doctors.

Sam's heart rate is plummeting, his throat closing over on the operating table.

Anaesthetist Ryan Salter takes a moment to assess the patient, who came in for a routine appendectomy and is now suffering a life-threatening allergic reaction.

It could be caused by the anaesthetic. It could be the antibiotics. It might be the latex in Dr Salter's gloves, or the chemical used to prep for surgery.

But all the anaesthetist needs to worry about is how to stop Sam from dying.

"Call for help," he says, sending an offsider scurrying to the surgery phone.

"And draw up some adrenaline. We're treating this as anaphylaxis at the moment - does anyone have any problems with that?"

Within moments, he and his team are pumping Sam full of adrenaline, oxygen and fluids. They monitor his vitals.

Behind a glass window, simulation centre clinical leader Deborah Forsyth and specialist anaesthetist Nicola Moore watch their students with interest, one eye on the computer controls.

"Should we let them relax a bit now?" Dr Moore asks.

Sam is Wellington Hospital's new state-of-the-art human patient simulator. Along with his little brother Roswell, he can blink, breathe, bleed, moan, and even die if junior doctors make a big enough mistake.

The two METI HPS androids are the first of their kind in a New Zealand hospital setting, and cost $431,000, paid for by Wellington Hospital's charity.

They replace Carlos, who is retiring after 17 years as the centre's mannequin.

Trainers can control the mannequin's heart rate and blood pressure to create a real surgical situation - and to test trainees' responses.

It takes qualified doctors another five years of training to become an anaesthetist, and they have a 1-in-10,000 chance of having a patient suffer a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylactic shock, while under sedation. But if they do, they need to know how to respond.

"It's a chance to practise working out what the problem is, and an anaesthetist is often terribly time-pressed," Dr Forsyth said.

"One of the things we know goes wrong in hospitals is you have people with all the skills and knowledge, but things don't go well - and it's usually because of miscommunication."

After the exercise, which Sam survived, third-year anaesthetist Dr Salter said he was happy to have saved his life. "The stress was pretty real."

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- The Dominion Post

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