Robotic patient helps Bath pharmacy students practice diagnosis

23 February 2010

A robot that can be programmed to have a range of medical conditions, from heart disease to constipation, is being used by pharmacy students at the University of Bath to help practise diagnostic skills and treating patients.

The SimMan 3G, nicknamed 'Simon' by the students, is a life-sized model that talks, breathes and reacts to medicines in the same way as a real human (photo below right and video below). He can be examined for blood pressure, heart and lung function, and can even be changed into a female.

SimMan is one of a range of patient and other human simulators produced by Norwegian company Laerdal.

SimMan - From left: Dr Denise Taylor (Senior Teaching Fellow in Clinical Pharmacy) with students Gareth Kitson, Joe Tooley and Sophie McGlen. (credit: Nic Delves-Broughton)Dr Denise Taylor, Senior Teaching Fellow in Clinical Pharmacy said: “He’s amazingly life-like. He has a pulse, his pupils constrict when you shine a light in them and he also reacts to drugs in a similar way to a real person. If he has a reaction to a medicine, he might have a seizure, sweat or vomit.

“He’s an amazing resource because he gives students a chance to practise examination skills, including diagnosis and treatment of patients, in a safe environment.”

Whilst SimMan 3G is widely used for training doctors in medical school, the University of Bath is one of the first pharmacy departments to own one. It is part of a new state-of-the-art teaching suite opened recently by Vice-Chancellor Professor Glynis Breakwell.

From left: Dr Denise Taylor (Senior Teaching Fellow in Clinical Pharmacy) with students Gareth Kitson, Joe Tooley and Sophie McGlen. (credit: Nic Delves-Broughton)

The suite is set up like a real pharmacy, with a dispensary and patient consulting rooms. Each student is assigned a set of fictitious patients, each with medication records that the student can use to decide which medicines may be prescribed and dispensed safely.

The new laboratory also includes six pharmacy consultation rooms, where students are filmed whilst role-playing encounters with patients, played by teaching staff or professional actors. This gives students valuable feedback as to how well they communicate with patients.

Head of Pharmacy Practice Professor Marjorie Weiss said: “The role of the pharmacist is changing significantly. They are increasingly offering more patient-facing services such as giving advice to patients about appropriate medicine use, minor illnesses and healthy lifestyles. Some pharmacists, with additional training, can also prescribe medicines.

“This calls on the pharmacist’s clinical and communication skills — they might have to explain a medicine-taking routine to a patient, offer advice on quitting smoking, check an individual’s cholesterol level or identify underlying issues, such as depression.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Jane Millar, added: “Pharmacy practice has made great advances over recent years, and so this new pharmacy practice suite will ensure that University of Bath pharmacists have the best possible vocational education to equip them to meet the needs of their profession.”

The laboratory was set up with funding from the Wolfson Foundation and the University’s Alumni Fund.

Video of SimMan in action


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