College uses AI mannequins to train health and care practitioners

Students at Darlington College will be able to practise medical procedures in a simulated health care environment using lifelike mannequins

21st May 2024 about a 3 minute read
“We are very excited. The vastly improved sense of realism is going to be so much better for the students and the local health and social care sector will benefit enormously as a result.” Mick O’Reilly, curriculum manager for health, childcare, public services and science, Darlington College

Darlington College, a further education college in County Durham, is to use mannequins powered by artificial intelligence to train students in health and social care.

Staff at the college will use the AI mannequins to create a variety of health and social care scenarios at a new training facility, which will include realistic recreations of a hospital ward, a GP surgery and a nursing home. These practice areas will include beds, screens, sinks, medical flooring and an open teaching space.

The aim is to create true-to-life environments so students can familiarise themselves with the workplace as the college helps the country meet a huge shortfall of staff in the sector. In September 2023, the NHS vacancy rate was 8.4%, or 121,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles. In 2022/23, the overall social care vacancy rate was 9.9%, or 152,000 roles.

Mick O’Reilly, the college’s curriculum manager for health, childcare, public services and science, said: “We are very excited. The vastly improved sense of realism is going to be so much better for the students and the local health and social care sector will benefit enormously as a result.”

A safe and controlled environment

When the new facility opens in mid-June, students will be able to perform a variety of procedures on the mannequins, which are being supplied by Simulaids. These include measuring blood pressure, taking blood, performing injections and dealing with sores. Simulaids, which specialises in medical simulation, says that the use of patient simulation models and mannequins “has allowed medical professionals to train in a safe and controlled environment, with no risk of harming real patients.”

Students studying T-levels in health care will be able to perfect handling techniques, learn how to use a hoist and acquire skills in coping with obese patients. The mannequins come equipped with speech recognition and AI voice responses, scenario-driven and instructor-controlled functions, physiology with pharmaceutical treatment simulations and ECGs. The equipment will also be made available to employers for bespoke training.

The mannequins, which can be of either sex, young, middle-aged or geriatric, are designed to build critical thinking and decision-making in students, help them perform physical assessments of patients, evaluate vitals and waveforms and practise procedures such as IV administration, catheterisation and airway management.

Students will also be able to assess advanced life support performance with CPR metrics as well as livestream or record patient perspective during simulated events.

Sarah Lloyd, a health care lecturer at the college, said: “The Simulaids come with five settings ranging from a headache to heart problems. But they also have the ability create other conditions to meet students’ needs.

“Students will be able to ask them questions, take their pulse, even shock them with a defibrillator, and get the same response as they would with a real person.”

The new facility is being financed with funding from Tees Valley Local Skills Improvement Fund, which supports the implementation of the Local Skills Improvement Plan, led by the North East Chamber of Commerce and funded through the Department for Education.

FCC Insight

The shortfall in health and care professionals is one of the most pressing problems the country faces. But these are not jobs that can be taught purely in the classroom: students need practical, hands-on training. Fnding the opportunity for students to acquire and exercise these skills is challenging, however, because it requires access to clinical settings and real-life patients. The growing preference for using lifelike mannequins on which students can practise skills such as CPR or taking blood enables colleges to train more students more quickly, in a safe, risk-free environment, than was previously possible. The use of artificial intelligence to enable the mannequins to recognise and respond to speech creates an even more realistic setting for students to practise their skills. We anticipate that many more further education colleges will follow Darlington’s example in adopting this technology.