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A mannequin in Georgia is one of the first to use AI to help train nurses


For generations, nursing students have used mannequins to practice what they're learning. But with artificial intelligence on the rise, those mannequins are getting closer to the real thing. WABE's Jim Burress recently met one of the new AI patients.

JIM BURRESS, BYLINE: Down a corridor and to the left at Emory University's School of Nursing is one of the most realistic mannequins ever to grace a mockup hospital room.

KIM FUGATE: Could you tell me your name, sir?


FUGATE: And what brings you in today?

AI-GENERATED VOICE: I'm here today because I have been experiencing a headache for the past few days.

BURRESS: Emory HAL is the first model S5301 human patient simulator mannequin a university has ever incorporated into its nursing training. Emory's Kim Fugate is quizzing the patient, who's tucked under a crisp bed sheet pressed so pristinely you'd think you were at the Four Seasons.

FUGATE: Can you tell me how old you are?

AI-GENERATED VOICE: I am 41 years old.

BURRESS: Until now, about as close to the real thing a student could get involved actors playing out pre-written scenarios, says Beth Ann Swan. She's associate dean of Emory's nursing school.

BETH ANN SWAN: Without a mannequin like this, our faculty or someone would be standing there pretending they're a crying baby, pretending - they're going (mimicking crying). You know, it's like, OK. I hear it. But for me, at least, when I'm standing here and I'm asking him questions, and he's answering me and his mouth is moving, I don't know. It's a much different experience.

BURRESS: Even an Academy Award performance wouldn't allow students to, say, intubate the mock patient or start an IV. With Emory HAL, they can.

SWAN: For me, who is a person who practiced on each other and oranges, to now be here doing this, I think with the AI it's going to explode. I mean, I think it's going to remake what's possible.

BURRESS: But they're not quite there. In fact, students have yet to get their hands on Emory HAL. That could happen this fall. And when they do, they'd better bring their A-game. Emory HAL is able to record and convey exactly how well they perform. All this comes with a price tag up to $170,000, says Dean Swan. Jim Archetto is with Gaumard Scientific, which makes HAL.

JIM ARCHETTO: So similar to airline pilots training on flight simulators, honestly, the risk is just too high from a patient care standpoint not to train on a simulator.

BURRESS: Cost is just one consideration. Another is how good are the data Emory HAL's AI is given? The mannequin comes in different skin tones, and a female version is in the works. Maybe a Haley (ph)? But when it comes to something as high stakes as emergency health care, cultural biases are a big concern. That's according to Dr. Jonathan Chen of Stanford's Center for Biomedical Informatics Research.

JONATHAN CHEN: What are the cases being presented? How does the patient - the simulated patient interact with clinical trainees so that it represents the broad tapestry of humanity that they're going to be interacting with in the real world?

BURRESS: Chen says these are questions we must answer now. Like it or not, AI is already in medicine, and it's already pretty smart.

FUGATE: Do you listen to the radio at all, HAL?

AI-GENERATED VOICE: Yes, I do. I enjoy listening to NPR's MORNING EDITION and All Things Considered.

BURRESS: For NPR News, I'm Jim Burress in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIR'S "J'AI DORMI SOUS L'EAU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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