Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What about Urban War Zones?

The Stanford SimsWorkshop on medical simulations also featured, Harvey Magee, formerly of WAR-MED, the Wartime Medical Planning Office, and Fort Detrick. His cabinet of virtual curiosities included a fake-blood spurting "hemorhage simulator," electronic mannequins subjected to various indignities, and something called "manimal," whose actual function managed to escape me. As I was listening to his presentation, I was reminded of two recent museum shows: Devices of Wonder at the Getty and Medicine Man at the British Museum.

In addition to displaying his menagerie of automata, Magee presented two arguments in favor of using virtual reality technology in medical training:

1) Simulations for training have drastically reduced the number of errors in aviation and combat.

2) 100,000 people need battlefield trauma skills, and there are not enough patients on which to practice.

What I find disturbing about the latter argument is that this rhetoric threatens already destabilized trauma centers in cities. Before simulations, these trauma centers could at least count on attracting talented medical students and residents destined for the armed forces, so they could gain experience treating gunshot wounds and other violent injuries from our urban battlefields. Now these hospitals face a potential brain drain as doctors focus on virtual patients rather than real ones.



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