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Grant to allow HST students to train with patient simulator

The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), the Center for Medical Simulation (CMS) and MIT have received a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation for a realistic patient simulator -- a computerized mannequin -- to develop new applications in medical education.

The lifelike "patient" will help medical students, residents and experienced practitioners to better integrate principles and practices without having to do all of their learning on actual patients.

HST and CMS, a nonprofit corporation that comprises a collaboration of the anesthesia departments affiliated with Harvard Medical School, will use this $600,000, three-year grant to develop educational programs using the computerized mannequin. In addition to teaching and honing basic diagnostic and treatment skills, the Macy Simulation Project will work toward validating this model of education and the use of simulation for testing and evaluation as well as teaching.

"I am very pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation on the Macy Simulator Project," said Martha L. Gray, director of HST, the J.W. Kieckhefer Professor of Electrical Enginerring and principal investigator of this project. "My colleagues and I are confident that this project will significantly improve the education of health care providers, which ultimately improves patient care. I see this project as a great example of how collaboration with biomedical engineers, medical specialists and educators will create something that none of us could do alone."

"With the use of these almost life-like mannequins, trainees and experienced clinicians alike can learn new and risky procedures in a safe setting," said Dr. Jeffrey Cooper, another investigator, a physician affiliated with the Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and director of CMS, one of the first such simulation centers in the world. "While I believe that traditional education and training are enhanced with this novel technology, my underlying goals are for patient safety and for building more effective health care teams."

Although the computer-controlled "patient" in this project simulates many organ systems and pathologies, the emphasis will be on respiratory illnesses. Realistic simulation of a clinical environment and the computer-controlled mannequin "patient" will be used to engage students in clinical scenarios.

Since Dr. Cooper and others first developed simulators in the mid-1980s, the concept has expanded beyond anesthesia to many other domains. There are approximately 150 such simulators worldwide in use at medical centers and other facilities where medical professionals are trained.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 3, 1999.

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