The New Wave of Medical School Training: Robot Technology

In today’s ever-changing world of technology, breakthrough innovations happen every day.

Anybody who has gone out and purchased a shiny, new piece of hardware, only to have the newer, faster, better version released shortly thereafter, can attest to that. The same can be said for the field of science and medical school training, but in this case, it seems, the newer, faster, and better equipment and innovation benefits us all.

The future of medical school training looks to be medical robots. No, not the robots of science fiction that endeavor to take over the world. These robots are digitally controlled mannequins that simulate the human body to near perfection and are used in training medical students. Such highly sophisticated devices are controlled by behind-the-scenes instructors and made to simulate real, everyday situations, along with the unusual and rare.

What can they do?Female Android

The question may actually be, what can’t they do? They help with simpler tasks such as training new hands to draw blood, perform a spinal tap, find deep arteries, remove fluid from knees, and perform colonoscopies. They also help with complex tasks like delivering a baby. The robots can simulate a heart attack, sudden bleeding during surgery, and adverse reactions to anesthesia. Instructors can throw just about anything and everything at doctors in training.

This revolutionary type of simulation is training doctors to work under perilous conditions, including combat situations. Training sessions simulate intense heat, realistic helicopter noises, and extreme time pressure to perform procedures commonly found on the battle field.

Training facilities are also hoping to improve hands-on training in patient bedside manner. Given that certain things simply cannot be learned from a book, what better way to season young doctors than to have them interact with amateur actors under the watchful eye of their instructors? In this manner, doctors learn to diagnose patients based on symptoms presented and practice delivering earth-shattering news such as a terminal cancer diagnosis. In some cases, actor/robot hybrids are even used. Imagine actors playing the role of a husband and wife having a baby—portraying real life stress and emotions— with a robot bottom delivering a realistic birth experience for med students.

What are the desired outcomes?

The hope is this new technology improves hands-on medical school training, so when it comes to real-world practice, doctors will have had simulated experiences as close to human as possible. Doctors will have the opportunity to practice procedures as many times as necessary, which has the twofold effect of increasing their skills and decreasing anxiety when performing them on a live patient.

When honing in any skill—particularly one performed under high stress—it is important to simulate the situation to the highest degree possible. As they say, practice makes perfect. The same lesson is important for pre-med students preparing for the MCAT. Students should simulate the test experience multiple times prior to the big day. Taking practice tests that are timed, with no bathroom breaks, no cheat sheets, and no internet breaks, help prepare students for test day. It is a good lesson to be learned early on, as it will surely come in handy during medical school training.

What it all boils down to is this: New technology will increase the quality of patient care and safety and—some experts predict—even lower the cost of health care. As doctor mistakes will likely decrease, this will also mean fewer lawsuits and less loss of life due to human error, which is something we can all get behind. And one thing’s for sure: Though they look like department store mannequins, these robots are no dummies!