Hospitals turn to lifelike robots to train more staff on using ventilators

Posted at 5:09 PM, May 29, 2020

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – If COVID-19 cases spike this fall, hospitals want to make sure they have enough ventilators. But that's only one part of the equation. They'll also need more trained staff to help operate the complex machines.

"When governors have been asking for tens of thousands of ventilators, that's great, but there's only a finite group of people that are skilled and trained and authorized to use those ventilators," said Jim Archetto, Vice President of Gaumard Scientific.

The machines help patients breathe, pumping oxygen into their bodies.

"But what's critically important is how you control that pressure. If you pump too much pressure into a patient, your lungs will explode," explains Archetto.

The stakes couldn't be higher, so hospitals are now working on training more staff members to help operate the devices.

That's where Gaumard comes into play; their lifelike robots simulate not only medical emergencies but also emotions.

"We'd really rather have these nurses and docs practice on a simulator before they're working on a live patient in a critical care situation," said Archetto.

Pediatric Hal is a 5-year-old patient simulator who can breathe, bleed, move, cry, and talk.

"He can actually be plugged into a real ventilator, and that ventilator can take control of his breathing functions," said Archetto.

Companies like Gaumard have seen a spike in demand for this specialized training.

Archetto says they've received calls from medical schools, hospitals, and even manufacturing companies needing to test their new ventilators.

With in-person training on hold, Gaumard is using Zoom to train professionals virtually on how to use their simulators.

"I can provide whatever symptoms I'd like for him to mimic, for COVID, or anything for that matter," said Archetto.

Lincoln Healthcare, located just outside of Philadelphia, had already developed a program using Hal to train their at-home nurses on how to operate ventilators.

"We really wanted to make sure our nurses were armored with the best training, the best emergency preparedness that could arise in the home," said Autumn Lincoln, vice president and co-founder of Lincoln Healthcare.

When the pandemic hit, they opened up the training to all medical professionals in Philadelphia and surrounding cities.

"We actually saw some nurses that weren't even planning to work in a hospital that signed up for the training," said Lincoln.

Those who might have been hesitant to operate a ventilator finished the training feeling empowered, knowing they're now part of the solution to this complex COVID-19 equation.