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High-tech dummies help doctors save lives

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A line of high-tech dummies is used in simulations of trauma surgery
  • The dummies, by Trauma FX, bleed, breath and talk
  • Observers can change conditions in real time as trainees respond
  • Doctor: On a good day "the mannequin did not die"

(CNN) -- "Trauma Alert! Trauma Alert! Gunshot Wound."

The announcement comes through the overhead speakers in an operating room in Tampa, Florida, and a team of doctors and nurses spring into action.

Dr. Robert Benjamin takes the vital signs of the patient who was just rushed in and shouts orders to his team.

"Do we have his blood pressure yet?" asks Benjamin.

This trauma scene is like the ones Benjamin has been through a lot over the years. Yet, no matter how many times you do it, he says, you can never quite prepare for what the next emergency may be.

"We get about 1,200 traumas a year," he said. "I'm ex-military and did a deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, and these scenarios were on par with what I would see out there."

But today's trauma alerts were different. The patient was bleeding and had rapidly changing vital signs, but he was never in danger of dying -- because he was never alive.

At a glance it looks just like a mannequin. But this is no dummy.

It is a high tech patient simulator. It's equipped with robotics that allows it to move, hemorrhage and provide vitals for doctors.

"The mannequin did look very realistic," Benjamin said. "You were able to do a neuro check, move extremities, look at his eyes, and his breathing and respirations were very accurate."

The patient simulator is a product of a company called Trauma FX. It was designed to help doctors prepare for trauma cases like war-zone injuries, car crashes, gunshot wounds and amputations.

But it's not just about looking real. It also provides detailed feedback on the team's performance.

"They just performed the chest tube properly," said Carolyn Hollander of Trauma FX. "All of these are indications that the learner has performed the intervention. He lost a total of 1,500 millileters of blood and respiratory is back up."

Hollander was controlling the patient simulator from a control room overlooking the operating room. From there, a group of doctors monitor the training sessions, keeping the teams on their toes with their ability to change the scenarios at any second.

"If you think you are doing great, I'll switch the scenario. I'll drop his blood pressure. What are you going to do now," said Dr. Luis Llerena of the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, where the training session is taking place.

The center is a 90,000-square-foot state-of-the-art health training and education facility. It's designed to help health professionals, students and residents train under pressure.

"You have a mannequin that has breathing, vocalization and you can do invasive treatments," said Llerena. "That is what changes someone's mind and says, 'OK, now I'm really in a situation.' You get ultimate learning from that point."

Never knowing when the next tragedy will strike has hospitals turning to technology like this so teams can learn what an emergency situation could look and feel like.

"When we do debriefing, we ask them what are you feeling," Llerena said. "Give it one word, and you saw the group say this is difficult, chaotic, intense, someone said scary.

"One person felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed here is fine because now they can go back and know how to deal with that feeling."

For Benjamin's team, the lessons learned could turn out to be life-saving. Today, however, was just a good run-through.

"The team-building type aspects is what medicine needs to go through, instead of focusing on individual skills," he said. "That will be better for the patient because we'll have better outcomes.

"Today went exceptionally well," he added. "The mannequin did not die."

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