'He Cries, Bleeds and Coughs:' Stanford Program Trains Hospital Staff With New Lifelike Robotic 'Patient' - NBC Bay Area
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'He Cries, Bleeds and Coughs:' Stanford Program Trains Hospital Staff With New Lifelike Robotic 'Patient'

HAL is a crying, screaming 5-year-old boy that doctors say will make life-saving training more effective for hospital staff

Stanford Hospitals Train Staff With Lifelike Robot

HAL is a crying, screaming 5-year-old boy that doctors say will make life-saving training more effective for hospital staff

(Published Friday, Aug. 31, 2018)

What to Know

  • Stanford's Revive program conducts simulated life-threatening emergencies on working hospital floors

  • HAL is the latest "patient simulator" from Gaumard, a company that started out making synthetic skeletons for medical training

  • Staff members are told to treat the lifelike robot as a real patient, using real tools and medications to treat him

In a room at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, a concerned nurse pushes the "code blue" button beside the bed, and a crowd of staff comes running down the hall.

It's not a real emergency — but they've all been instructed to treat it like one. The 5-year-old patient is actually a new medical training robot called HAL that's being used in a hospital setting for the very first time.

HAL cries real tears when he's upset or in pain. Stanford doctors say the emotional impact of that realism helps staff remember what they learned in training.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

HAL is the latest in a line of increasingly-complex "patient simulators" from Gaumard Scientific, a company with its roots in World War II battlefield surgery. After the war, the company produced the first synthetic human skeleton for medical schools. 70 years later, its latest training device can turn its head and cough just like a real kindergartener, and even cries real tears as it screams for its mom.

The doctors and nurses who run Stanford's Revive training program say lifelike "patients" can generate an emotional response among hospital staff that helps them retain the lessons they learn during these quarterly drills. Revive conducts simulations at Stanford hospitals and clinics in real patient care areas, using real equipment and supplies. If something is out of place or hard to find, staff will discover the problem during the simulation, they reason — rather than during a real emergency.

Doctors can listen to HAL's lungs as he breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide. All the while, he's watching them with eyes that follow movement, respond to light and blink more rapidly as he gets anxious.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

For that reason, the program's organizers demand an almost unthinkable degree of realism from robotic patients like HAL. His eyes respond to light and movement, his pulse can be found in all the right places (unless he's in cardiac arrest) and caregivers can measure his blood sugar, blood oxygen level, and even the amount of carbon dioxide in his breath using the real monitoring equipment found in every hospital room.

HAL's mood can change as he interacts with doctors and nurses. He can be angry, worried, lethargic, anxious or distracted. Pediatricians helped design his nuanced facial expressions.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bloom/NBC Bay Area

Along with his physical features, HAL's designers say they worked with pediatricians to design his moods, reactions and facial expressions to give caregivers the right clues about what might be hurting him.

Watch the video above to see Stanford's pediatric resuscitation team in action as they try to save HAL's (robotic) life!

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