Originally created 05/08/02

A teaching tool for medical students



SARASOTA, Fla. - The patient's head, cocked to one side and detached from its torso, does not move. But the eyelids blink, the pupils dilate.

Pat Vitale ignores the severed head. He puts his ear to the gaping neck, listening to the rhythmic breathing. Vitale thinks he hears a leak.

Poor Stan. It may be days before they get around to reattaching your head.

Stan, short for Standard Man, is a Human Patient Simulator, or HPS. His Ken doll-perfect hair and sculpted abs belie his proclivity to become the patient from hell. The full-size, computer-driven mannequin can bleed, suffocate or go into cardiac arrest. He is programmed to exhibit more than 70 medical crises. With the click of a computer mouse, he can morph into a 61-year-old trucker who smokes or a 30-year-old pregnant woman.

Vitale, a test engineer, is putting Stan through his paces.

When Stan is ready, he will teach medical students and emergency workers how to treat everything from a gushing wound to a blocked airway. His distress will be so lifelike some students will weep when they fail and Stan "dies."

"It gives the students an opportunity to practice. In real life, if there's an emergency, the students are pushed to the side and become observers. With the simulators they can make a mistake, and no one's life is at risk," says Tess Mitchell, marketing director for Stan's maker, Medical Education Technologies Inc. in Sarasota, Fla.

Founded in 1996, the company is one of a handful in the world making medical simulators. An HPS and supporting software can cost more than $200,000.

More than 200 teaching hospitals, universities, fire departments and military bases in the United States have one.

NASA wants the beleaguered patient to train astronauts for medical emergencies light-years distant from a hospital. The Army utilizes a smaller Model C, easier to tote and powered by a portable generator.

The newest Stan is a 6-foot, 250-pound hunk. Mitchell says the 28-year-old brunette was modeled on Mr. April in the Chippendale calendar. There is no female simulator. Stan does have interchangeable genitalia. Medical school students tend to dress him up and plop a wig on his zippered head if he's to play a female.

"Then he looks like a German swimmer," jokes one of the techs.

The mannequins are purchased from an outside supplier, then mercilessly deconstructed. Symptoms down to the flutter of an eyelid are controlled by computer mouse or handheld remote. An instructor can script new scenarios. Some use the microphone to give voice to Stan's suffering.

"Help me!" they plead to startled students.

Pinprick openings near Stan's mouth can ooze mucus or bleed colored water.

"I feel like I'm in the medical field," says Rose Brennan, an electronic mechanical assembler. She carefully shaves a depression in the toe of a child-size plastic leg. A pneumatic line will be threaded through holes and covered with "skin," one of 10 pulse points on a PediaSim.

The work is labor intensive. Technicians and assemblers and engineers handcraft each simulator. They produce about five a month.

"It's more challenging" than most jobs, says test engineer Vitale. "There's more to the electronics. You have pneumatics and controls and gas analyzers."

HPS software can morph Stan into a smoking, hypertensive 61-year-old truck driver. He is pictured in a photograph on the screen, a gimme cap on his head and an umbrella drink in his hand. Stan can be old or young, male or female, healthy or chronically ill or traumatized.

When students rotate through hospitals or clinics, the experience they gain will largely depend on who comes through the doors.

Stan delivers on cue and tracks exactly what happened when.