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Infotech — Medical Simulation

Medicine Meets Simulation

A distracted driver accelerates through a stop sign, knocking a rider off his bike. Soon an ambulance blares onto the scene. Medics rush out, check the man’s vital signs, and intubate him to allow him to breathe. They load him onto a stretcher and transport him to a nearby medical facility, where the doctors immediately get to work.

The patient may survive. Or not. Even if he doesn’t the medical team can review what they did wrong and try again, this time perhaps saving his life. Because this patient is not alive. He’s a simulation.

Until recently, doctors mostly trained by first watching procedures, then practicing them directly on patients. Researchers estimate that deaths from medical errors range between 44,000 and 98,000 every year. Nearly one million additional injuries are also attributed to medical error. “So you don’t want to be the first one that the doctor or nurse works on,” says John Anton, founder of the Florida-based simulation company Information Visualization and Innovative Research (IVIR). “Give them the opportunity to repeat situations they’re going to have to face—that’s what simulation is all about.”

Once, doctors might have used a hard plastic figure to stand in for a patient. Today’s mannequins simulate breathing, exhibit a pulse and mimic other vital signs, and can even “respond” to treatments. They offer a safe way for medical students, nurses, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to get their hands on patients and practice procedures over and over, literally gaining a realistic feel for applying lifesaving methods before they ever come in contact with a suffering human being.

Mannequins Come to Life

A major breakthrough in medical simulation took place more than 40 years ago, when Michael Gordon of the University of Miami invented a mannequin that he named Harvey, after an honored professor. Harvey could embody a number of the different cardiac diseases a doctor might confront; and depending on the disease, a stethoscope to the chest encountered any one of a number of different heart sounds. Transformative changes in technology have resulted in the latest versions of Harvey, who can now mimic dozens of cardiac and lung diseases with all their appropriate rushes and gurgles.

In 1996, Medical Education Technologies, Inc. (METI), based in Florida, began selling the first whole-body human simulators. Instead of lifeless, immobile mannequins, these models intricately mimic human physiology, with palpable pulses, discernable breathing, and the ability to talk and to respond to treatments. The “patient” can be programmed for any type of physiology and disease. According to Lou Oberndorf, CEO of METI, “It opened up an enormous number of possibilities in the ways to teach.”

Today’s simulators take advantage of the latest technology to go beyond simulating the vital signs and responses of diseases. The latest versions are plumbed to excrete from every orifice: they spurt blood at the site of a severed artery, and clear liquid streams from their eyes and noses to mimic the effects of a biological attack.

Beth Pettitt, division chief of the Soldier Simulation Environments at the Army’s Simulation and Training Technology Center, explains that her office has challenged in-house and contract researchers to “come up with better representations of skin, bone, blood— so these wounds look right, smell right, feel right, and behave with physiological accuracy. Soldiers have to control bleeding, put a tourniquet on, and use a clotting agent if appropriate.”

Download the Medicine Meets Simulation White Paper to learn more about
  • - increasingly realistic simulators;
  • - the military’s use of medical simulation; and
  • - new tools to treat disorders such as PTSD and anxiety.

Medical Simulation articles from technology review

A Simulator for Brain Surgeons

A virtual-reality simulator promises safer operations and better training.

More »

Building Safer, Superior Stents

A computer model simulates how drug-eluting stents behave in arteries, enabling the design of better devices.

More »

Modeling Brain Blasts

A computer simulation reveals how blast waves reverberate around a soldier's helmet.

More »

A Working Brain Model

A computer simulation could eventually allow neuroscience to be carried out in silico.

More »


Medical Simulation and Training

Florida is home to one of the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) industry clusters and an emerging life sciences center. With its collaborative and interdisciplinary strengths, Florida is a natural hotbed for the modeling simulation field. Today, a number of Florida’s innovative MS&T companies and life sciences research organizations are the world’s leaders in developing medical simulation technologies.

White Paper

The medical simulation field is moving mainstream thanks to recent significant technological advances and a solid track record of helping medical professionals improve their skills. Learn more about the medical simulation field and Florida’s major role in it.

Florida's Simulation and Infotech Cluster

Industry Snapshot

The MS&T field, which combines software development, custom computer programming, graphic design, digital media, and other IT fields, is one of Florida’s signature industries. Find out more in this brief overview of the MS&T industry in the state.

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Market Brief

Florida is a leader in the Information Technology sector. Register to download this market overview and learn more about Florida's IT Cluster, including the size, location and infrastructure.

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Florida's Infotech News

Infotech Feature

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Mobile data solutions represent the future of the wireless platform, opening up vast new revenue opportunities for operators as well as reshaping how subscribers interact with the world around them. Explore the technologies and trends pointing the way for mobile's next step forward, and learn about some of the newest mobile services coming to market.

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