Simulating Surgery to Save Lives

High-Tech Mannequins Give Doctors New Practice Options

Every year, as many as 440,000 Americans die because of mistakes that occur in hospitals.

Now, with the use of high-tech simulators, physicians and their medical teams can practice procedures without risking the lives of their patients and potentially avoiding dangerous errors.

"It’s similar to a football team," says Dr. Alistair Phillips, a pediatric heart surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "It’s making sure everyone is on the same play in the playbook and what their role is and how they are going to deliver the best level of care."

Phillips and his cardiac surgical team practice their complex procedures on a regular basis at Women’s Guild Simulation Center for Advanced Clinical Skills at Cedars-Sinai.

The $15 million dollar facility is a fully functional operating room with one big difference: the patients are state-of-the-art mannequins. Their skin feels and behaves like human skin; they have exact replicas of human organs; and they can be programmed with vital signs and medical problems. They can even bleed, talk, hyperventilate and give birth.

It’s as close to the real thing without putting a human patient at risk.

"If you’re doing complex surgeries you’re able to simulate the actual surgery you’re going to do,"Phillips explains.

During the simulation, the medical team is challenged with a series of complications including equipment problems, patient complications, and emergencies. Working through these problems in advance of the actual surgery, not only improves their teamwork, but helps them prepare for the unexpected. Dr Bruce says "That means cutting down on risks and complications and improving results."

In the case of Phillips, who specializes in newborn and infant cardiac surgeries, simulations are especially helpful when working with small organs and tiny bodies. But the Simulation Center can also be used to practice a host of adult procedures and surgeries including childbirth and ER visits.

Dr. Bruce’s Advice: "I’ve learned and I’ve taught doctors to care for trauma patients on mannequins and it does save lives. But not all hospitals have these simulators because they are expensive. If you or a family member needs surgery, find out how many of the same procedures the doctor has done and if the hospital uses medical simulators to practice."

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