Big Picture

Suspension of disbelief

Wide view of a hospital room with the SimMan 3G Plus lying on a gurney in the middle of the room.

Photography by Johnny C. Y. Lam

Patient simulators have been around for a long time, but with limitations. Some don’t have much to say. And they may have a face like a child’s doll.

But the versatile artificial patients at the Queen’s School of Medicine are different. They can react as they are treated and the manufacturer has even made their faces look real.

Called the SimMan 3G Plus patient simulators, they’re made by Laerdal Medical. Priced at $100,000 apiece, these mannequins simulate men, women, children, and infants, including a fetus emerging into the world (pushed by an electric motor).

“They’re trying to make the outside look more realistic now,” says Jeremy Babcock, the technical lab assistant in the School of Medicine’s Clinical Simulation Centre.

No passive objects, these simulators react.

  • Close-up of the SimMan 3G Plus chest showing where a defibrillator can be attached.

    Real clinical devices, such as a defib­rillator, can shock SimMan’s heart back into rhythm

  • Close-up of the SimMan 3G Plus' head and face.

    Interchangeable head skins can quickly and easily be switched between patients.

  • Close-up of the SimMan 3G Plus arm showing an IV attached to the inner elbow.

    Fluids and medications can be injected into the patient simulator.

  • Close-up of SimMom baby with the umbilical cord still attached.

    SimMom replicates all stages of labour, training students in standard deliveries as well as life-threatening emergencies.

  • View inside a room with multiple monitors that are displaying medical information related to the two SimMan 3G Plus' that are seen through a window.

    Monitoring the SimMan 3G Plus.

“It can have a seizure, and you feel that,” says Mr. Babcock, describing how SimMan’s eyes close and his body shakes. “Or there are pulses all through his entire body – carotid pulses on his neck… or femoral pulses on his groin. He even has pedal pulses on his feet.”

Mr. Babcock, as SimMan’s operator, answers a doctor’s questions via a speaker inside the mannequin, for instance: “Oh, I’m having chest pain, really sharp pain in this part of my chest!”

“I think it makes it more believable that it’s a real patient in distress, and helps with the suspension of disbelief,” he says.

Some of SimMan’s body parts are meant to be replaced. “There’s an airway emergency where they would actually cut into the neck,” and that section is replaceable.

Intubating and ventilators are another mainstay area. Staff from Kingston General Hospital have been coming in to practise these techniques during the COVID-19 era. 

“It was a safe place for them to practise. People can just walk back and forth quickly,” Mr. Babcock explains. “It’s used by a variety of people, from undergrad medicine to residents to staff who have been practising for 20 years, and even outside groups such as the military.”

The simulator is even built to withstand the full electric shock of a defibrillator. “[It’s] part of the reason why he’s so expensive.”

As for durability, each mannequin counts how many chest compressions they have endured. Some have reached 500,000 or 600,000 and are still running after 12 years.

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