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SimBaby Being Used to Train Medics

Baby Gertrude lays in her cot, in St Mary's Hospital, within London in the UK. She moves about a little, her chest rising and falling with her breath, and starts to cry, then coughs. She behaves just like any other nine month old baby, save she's not like any other nine month old baby. She is an embodied AI.

She is designed to train paediatricians on every scenario their mentors can think of. By using a physical, robotic baby rather than an avatar, they can teach aspects which VR has not gotten quite right yet.

In addition to moving about, breathing, coughing, crying and gurgling, Gertrude's skin colour can change to blue and even her head's soft spot can bulge and tense to simulate meningitis. She even has a heartbeat, attached to a crude circulatory system inside her, which allows doctors to take her pulse. The heartbeat is fully dynamic, just like everything else, and can change pace from a frantic thumping beat right down to no beat at all - something you are looking to avoid really.

So far, every junior doctor and nursing staff at the hospital, has been exposed to her at least once. The range of conditions she has had including severe brain trauma, mild and chronic asthma, meningitis, malaria, hypothermia, pneumonia, even the flu. She exists to train medical staff how to treat a human baby, allowing them to make all or at least most of their mistakes on her, where they can be picked up and admonished without risk to patients.

The mobile simulation unit is three years old, and was the brainchild of Dr Claudine de Munter. Unlike traditional simulators which are fixed in place, Gertrude is small enough to be picked up and carried to the training site, where any available cot can be used, as the control section of Gertrude is simply a dedicated laptop computer, just as portable as she is.

Gertrude's laptop is operated by the training mentor, who can input the name and amount of a drug injected into the baby, which the system will assimilate and produce physiological changes in Gertrude to match what that drug should be doing, in real-time. Likewise, internal sensors detect changes in air-pressure indicating an external breathing device, and add that into the simulation.

It is even possible to network life support and monitoring devices into the laptop, where the simulation computer will happily feed the machines the same data they would get from an organic, living patient, updating in real-time. Everything is geared towards being as realistic as possible, to minimise the necessary suspension of disbelief, and improve Gertrude's value as a training tool.

Dr de Munter is now pushing for such simulators to be made compulsory throughout the UK, based on the results Gertrude has produced in staff training at St Mary's.

"If this type of training is compulsory for pilots, then it ought to be so in paediatric medicine, where the first hour of care is critical."

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The baby being used to train medics

Imperial College Healthcare

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