It Breathes, It Bleeds -- but It Doesn't Sue; Computerized Mannequin Simulates Dozens of Problems for Students to Practice On

Article excerpt

Byline: Marcia Mattson, The Times-Union

SARASOTA -- It breathes, bleeds and has a pulse.

Its tongue swells during allergic reactions.

One of its pupils dilates when it suffers a head injury.

And if you place a hand over its nose and mouth, or choose the wrong course of treatment for one of its many ills, it dies.

But better to kill METI Man than an actual patient, which is why medical and nursing schools are spending tens of thousands of dollars for the high-tech patient simulator.

METI Man is a plastic shell within which a tangle of tubes, computer chips and plastic bags stand in for organs, bloodstream and airways.

Its shell can be altered to look like a male or a female, but more important, the device can be programmed to simulate the physiology of 50 patients, ranging from a healthy young man to a granny to "truck driver" -- a patient who drinks, is obese and has high blood pressure and a host of other problems.

Then it can be programmed to simulate dozens of medical scenarios, from an allergic reaction to a heart attack to a drug overdose.

Tonight on ER, a METI Man will overdose on cocaine as student doctors try to save it.

Meanwhile, Shands Jacksonville, which just purchased a patient simulator, is taking its model on the road to train Emergency Medical Services personnel in the 22 counties in Florida and Georgia that its helicopter ambulances serve.

The county EMS workers will practice lifesaving techniques such as intubation, a process that involves cutting a hole in a patient's throat to insert a breathing tube into the windpipe.

"It isn't real life, but from a realistic standpoint, it's much better than anything we've had before," said Margaret Griffen, medical director of TraumaOne flight services.

University of Florida researchers developed the METI Man technology in the late 1980s with a state technology grant. They licensed the technology to Loral Corp., a flight simulation company in Sarasota.

It created Medical Education Technologies and started producing the devices in the mid-1990s. About 450 are now in use at university medical schools, nursing and EMS programs and military bases. METI is one of just two companies in the world that makes the state-of-the art devices.

"We provide the simulated patient so health care professionals can face life-and-death situations with their patients with no risks, so when they do face that crisis they can react instinctively," said METI President Lou Oberndorf.

METI Man has several advantages over previous mannequins and real-life patients. It feels no pain. It won't sue. It can be reset to give each student the same experience, standardizing medical education and ensuring all students get practice.

"You can do it over and over and over again until you get it right, until you understand it," said METI spokeswoman Tess Mitchell.

The Sarasota company's headquarters looks something like a battlefield, with stacks of body parts in bins and boxes labeled "jaws" and "teeth." METI men lie on gurneys with their chests peeled back while technicians work on their computers.

At first, constructing a METI man took months. Now it takes days.

Hugo Acevedo is a physiologic model developer. He programs METI man's medical responses. Acevedo's cubicle is filled with medical textbooks, research papers and books on physiology, which he uses to create mathematical models that make the METI men behave the way people do.

"It's a lot of mathematics, physics, some chemistry and a lot of physiology," he said. …