Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Virtually the Same

There's a good chance that if and when I finally become a med student, some of the first patients I learn on could be plastic, not people.  Simulation is the new big thing in medical education, and the residents and med students who train in the Big City ED have all had chances to practice everything from intubation to running a code on some pretty sophisticated dummies.  

I'm a big fan of technology, and I'm excited to experience one of these simulators first hand.  I wonder, though, about what might be lost in the process.  An op-ed from last Friday's New York Times felt the need to defend the time-honored practice of anatomy lab from the encroachment of digital dissection.  Citing dramatic improvements in imaging technology and the high costs of preparing cadavers for thousands of med students each year, some institutions are trying to replace scalpels with computer mice.  I was reminded of this piece when I came across an article on CNN.com today that discussed how medical students in London are examining patients in a virtual hospital using the online environment Second Life.

The potential for technology to improve medicine is huge, but as Nurse K points out, by no means a sure thing.  And for all the advantages that are gained, there are still costs when you remember that medicine is very much a hands-on art.  As the op-ed author wrote: "The dissection of cadavers also gives young doctors an appreciation for the wonders of the human body in a way no virtual image can match.  It is awe-inspiring to hold a human heart in one's hands, to appreciate its fragility, intricacy and strength."

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