History of Medical Simulators

A brief history of the use of medical simulators in teaching and research.

Medical simulation is a critical part of the training all medical professionals receive. Whether the students are just learning CPR and first aid or are training to become EMTs, nurses or physicians, they all need to practice their technique in a way that will cause no harm. The ability to make mistakes without repercussion allows the students to practice until their technique is flawless.

David M. Gaba, M.D., said “No industry in which human lives depend on the skilled performance of responsible operators has waited for unequivocal proof of the benefit of simulation before embracing it.” (1992)


The History of Medical Simulation

Dr. Gregoire of mid-17th century Paris was the first physician in recorded history to use medical simulation. He used a human pelvic skeleton with skin stretched across it to demonstrate complicated deliveries to midwives.

Medical simulators were not adopted as teaching tools because they were considered ineffective. The use of medical simulators didn’t gain popularity until the 1960s when researchers developed a cardiology simulator named Harvey. Also in 1960, the famous Resusci Anne manikin was developed for CPR training.

Today, there are simulation manikins for almost every medical scenario, ranging from a well-being check up to complex heart surgery. Technology has expanded the capability of this technology, allowing for a far more interactive training scenario. Manikins are able to react to the procedures being practiced on them, medications given to them and even change the complications they present.

How Medical Simulators Assist in Education

Medical simulators have changed the way medicine is taught. The use of manikins and other purpose-built simulators has brought a level of expertise and confidence to medical personnel at all levels.

Allowing medical staff to develop and refine their skills without putting patients at risk allows them to learn more thoroughly. Simulation training offers the ability to respond to a wide variety of complex issues and unanticipated side effects that may not be seen often in the field. Simulation scenarios also allow an entire team to work together, allowing students to become familiar with not only the medical aspect of patient care, but also the group dynamics of medical practice.

No patient wants to see their doctor or nurse hesitating or uncertain in a new situation, and this is where simulation training plays a vital role. The level of confidence a medical professional shows to patients is a key factor in patient comfort. With the ability to practice until the technique is ‘just right’, these medical professionals will be able to not only provide the best care, but will also be able to put their patients at ease.

The most commonly used medical simulators are those used for CPR. Training in CPR is widespread and not limited to medical professionals. Teachers, camp counsellors, medical office support staff, flight attendants, personal trainers, prison personnel and lifeguards are all required to have yearly training.

Additionally, simulations are being used to train a team of health care workers in a particularly high-stakes or unusually complex procedure just prior to the team performing the actual procedure.

Medical simulations have gone high-tech with the implementation of virtual reality. These highly-immersive simulations are a lot more like the Star Trek holodeck than any computer program. The user wears goggles, sensor-laden gloves and is surrounded with highly-realistic visual, audio and haptic (touch and pressure) feedback. Simulations can be programmed in minute detail, allowing the student to respond to a variety of issues, complications and patient concerns.

There is no doubt that medical simulations are a critical part of health care training at all levels, but they cannot always take the place of human-based practice. It is also important to use trained actors for non-invasive human simulation. Only with human interaction will health care students be able to develop their skills of analysis, diagnosis and patient communication.

Medical simulation is a rapidly advancing field and as simulator technology approaches real-world clinical situations medical personnel will be more prepared to handle any situation.

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