Humanoid robots used to train New Zealand doctors in world-first

Humanoid robots are being rolled out on operating tables in New Zealand hospitals in a world-leading training programme that brings human touches and bodily fluids.

Mannequins have long been a part of medical training, but the medical staff at Kiwi hospitals will be upgrading from the vacant-looking, hard-bodied dolls used in first aid courses around the world.

Instead, doctors and nurses will turn their well-trained attention to robots that can blink and breath, with a heart that beats and the ability to talk, Stuff reports.

"Often when we train with simulation training, we just train as a group of surgeons or just as a group of anaesthetists, and that's not very realistic to the way that we normally work," anaesthetist Jeff Hoskins at a Waikato hospital said.

The dolls are eerily human. Source: Stuff
A 'moulage' medical training wound that training surgeon could come across on a mannequin. Source: MEDICFX

But with the Multidisciplinary Operating Room Simulation programme – MORSim for short – Hoskins said doctors, nurses, surgeons and the varying technicians that operate in theatre finally have a doll realistic enough for them all to train on together.

The MORSim programme was developed by Auckland University with the help of MEDICFX, an Auckland-based company that built the computer-controlled patients that simulate human actions, responses and ailments.

The training programme is big step forward from usual medical training dolls. Source: Wikipedia
The MORSim team. Source: MORSim

The mannequins are designed to respond and react to anaesthetic and are given back stories to add the final element of humanity.

The bots are said to be so lifelike, training staff feel compelled to stitch them up promptly at the end of the procedure.

Registered nurse Penny Johnstone works with the training programme to create "moulage" – synthetic injuries and conditions such as blood clots, pus, tumours, urine and faeces – to slot into the mannequins.

She told Stuff these "extra little bits" are what bring the dolls to life.

Uncanny: Some of MEDICFX medical products. Source: MEDICFX

In one scenario the RN gave a robot a perforated gut, with the bowel's putrid contents leaking into the dummy's abdomen.

"To replicate the smell, I went to a joke shop and got a bottle of smelly spray and put that on the wound," she said.

It is hoped the programme will fill the gaps that lead to failures in theatres, such as communicating issues with the patient and communication breakdowns among the surgical team.