October 1, 2006 Electrical, computer, and biological engineering combine in creating baby-patient simulators for training new pediatricians. A new simulator incorporates microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) and transducers to sense the doctors' actions -- such as giving air or performing an intubation -- and make the dummy react like a real child would. Computer software allows pediatric intensivists to create different scenarios for the simulator's behavior.
CHICAGO -- He cries, blinks and even breathes on his own! He's not real, but he sure looks it! This baby simulator is the newest way to train doctors, and it's about as close to the real thing as it gets.
During a real simulation, the medical residents don't know what's wrong with the baby, but they have to find out. After giving air, performing an intubation to open his airway, and learning about his history, they correctly diagnose the infant with shaken baby syndrome.
"It's very important for us to actually experience this before we experience the real thing," medical resident Juanita Mora tells DBIS. "I think it's a, it's a golden part of our training."
Children, and especially babies, don't visit the emergency room as often as adults. That's why it's hard to train doctors on how to handle infant emergencies.
"I think he's as lifelike as you could make him without being real," Madhavi Pola, also a medical resident, says.
Pediatric intensivists create different scenarios on a computer program. That information is fed to a microprocessor inside the baby and then to a monitor that displays the infant's vital signs.
"We can manipulate this child's physiology, meaning the way the body works," says Paul Severin, a pediatric Intensivist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Doctors can check his pulse and change his heart beat, blood pressure and breathing rate. They can give him an I.V. and medication, and he's the size of a real infant with skin that's pliable.
"We've been working very hard to move from using just the plastic mannequins into a really almost living-breathing type of device to do something resuscitations," Dr. Severin says. "And it's very exciting!"
Exciting for the medical residents of today -- who will soon be the doctors of tomorrow.
Doctors envision the next generation of simulators to be the size of a newborn -- or even a fetus. One other interesting fact -- the baby simulator can be changed to a female if need be.
BACKGROUND: Rush University Medical Center, along with other institutions, are using one of the first baby simulators to realistically train clinicians for what might occur in an actual crisis situation, without the risk of causing harm to these vulnerable young patients through trial and error. Simulator training increases patient safety without increasing patient risk. So the more training in a realistic setting that can be given, the less potential harm for patients in real settings while clinicians are trying to diagnose individual cases.
HOW IT WORKS: BabySim is shaped like a life-sized baby. It can blink, move its chest, cry, exhale and cough, among other movements. It functions much like the barcode systems used at supermarket checkout counters. External information is converted into electrical signals, causing the BabySim to react much like a normal baby would when, for example, given a certain type of medication. The simulator can also allow caregivers to perform clinical tasks like tracheal intubation, insertion of IVs or bladder catheters, and chest compressions, providing realistic clinical scenarios.
UNDER PRESSURE: Pressure sensors date back to the advent of the steam engine. They are still used to daily monitor the pressure of fluids in pipes, engines, hydraulics, or in nature to determine the depth of an ice pack, for example, of the density of a rock layer. The basic concept can also be adapted to determine the pressure of solids or gases. Most are about a cubic inch in size, but others are much, much smaller such as those used in microelectromechanical systems (MEMs). They use piezoresistance (PEE-zo resistance): pressure causes a material, like quartz, to conduct electricity; the intensity of the current corresponds to how much pressure is being applied. This charge is detected and recorded by a computer and displayed for analysis by scientists
WHAT ARE TRANSDUCERS: Transducers are electric devices that transform energy from one form into another, and they are used in a wide range of modern technology, including Geiger counters, electric motors, generators, pressure sensors, thermometers, antennae, light bulbs, and microphones, to name a few. For example, a microphone converts sound waves (mechanical energy) that strike its membrane into an electrical signal. A light bulb converts electrical energy into visible light. Electric motors convert electricity into kinetic energy to perform a given task, while a generator turns kinetic energy back into electrical energy, which can be used by electrical devices.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.