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ETSU’s surgical simulator in demand as teaching tool

Rex Barber • Mar 26, 2013 at 9:14 PM

After nearly a decade in development, a group of professors at East Tennessee State University have perfected and brought to market a life-like surgical manikin that is being ordered by educators around the world.

Dr. Martin Olsen, professor and director of the OB/GYN residency program in the College of Medicine, thought to create a surgical manikin that would help students learn late one night about nine years ago.

Soon after his brainstorm, he contacted Paul Sims and Bill Hemphill, two faculty members in the College of Business and Technology’s Department of Engineering Technology, Surveying and Digital Media, as well as his colleague, Dr. Martin Eason, an associate professor and director of the College of Medicine’s Center for Experiential Learning, which operates the Human Patient Simulation Lab.

Hemphill secured several grants to help work on the project.

The result after five or six years was an anatomical facsimile of a woman, developed to train medical residents, students and physicians in obstetrics and gynecological procedures.

Her name is Chloe. She is marketed under the name Surgical Chloe by Gaumard Scientific.

According to ETSU, Chloe is the “world’s first full-body, high-fidelity surgical simulator.”

ETSU owns the patent to Chloe and Gaumard licenses that patent. ETSU gets money for each sale, and the inventors also get a percentage.

Multiple orders have been placed for Chloe manikins. One medical learning facility in Russia has supposedly ordered one.

“She bleeds when you cut her,” Olsen said of Chloe. “She has heart sounds. She has lung sounds. She can be intubated. She can have emergencies in the operating room.”

Medical students and residents train on virtual reality simulations, which provide good insight into surgery. But there are limitations to virtual reality, Olsen said.

“You can’t teach how to make an abdominal incision with virtual reality,” Olsen said. “You can’t teach how to do a vaginal hysterectomy with virtual reality. So there’s a niche of things that can’t be taught with virtual reality that this simulator can do.”

Olsen said residents are heavily supervised in the operating room when they learn with real patients, so they likely will not make a mistake. But mistakes can be valuable teaching moments.

“With Chloe, we can force them to make a mistake, and then they’ve got to figure out what they they’re going to do when they make a mistake,” he said.

So, besides practicing knot-tying skills and surgical skills, students get to practice decision making, which Olsen said is probably the most important thing in the operating room.

And decisions can be about more than surgery, Olsen said.

“Fire in the operating room is actually more common than people understand,” he said. “But you can’t ever practice fire in the operating room with a real patient, but you can practice fire in the operating room with a simulator.”

Two versions of Surgical Chloe exist. One with a camera system runs in the low $50,000 range. One without a camera system runs in the low $30,000s.

The camera system has one on the surgeon’s head, several in Chloe’s abdomen where surgery is done and one in the room to provide an overview.

The cameras in the manikin’s abdomen provide an eye-level view for instructors to critique students after a surgery.

Stage blood is pumped through Chloe’s circulatory system. The blood flow can be manipulated to simulate high or low blood pressure. When students tie knots to stem blood flow, they can know immediately if their technique is effective or if they need to practice a bit more.

Olsen said this realism helps students treat Chloe as they would a real person.

“And, yes, she’s plastic,” he said. “So it’s hard for people to say, ‘I’m going to treat this piece of plastic like I would a patient.’ But once you start seeing blood... all of a sudden that suspension of disbelief becomes more easy to obtain by the learner, and so they do start acting like they’d act with a real person.”

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