New machine tests safety of hospital equipment by pretending to be human

The PatSim200 has been designed as a “patient in your pocket”, simulating human behaviour to help biomedical engineers test equipment such as blood pressure machines.

A new medical device has been designed, which mimics being a human to test the safety of emergency hospital equipment.

The PatSim200 is manufactured by company Rigel Medical, and has been designed by the company’s principal systems engineer David Fitzgerald, alongside Mark Beckwith, industrial designer and senior lecturer at Teesside University.

Mimics heart rate and body temperature

The hand-held machine acts as a “patient in your pocket”, says Fitzgerald, by mimicking patient signs such as heart rate, body temperature, respiration and blood pressure to test intensive care unit equipment. It aims to highlight their faults and ensure that they are accurate when used on real-life patients.

It has been designed with the aim of speeding up checks completed in hospitals by engineers, and also improving the safety of machinery, after a British Medical Journal study reportedly found that one in four operating room errors are due to equipment problems, according to Fitzgerald.

Technical features of the machine include a low-noise, analogue circuit design and a microcontroller to store, process and output the different human behaviours as signals.

Design-wise, it is “robust” and “portable”, with a USB connector for charging and a rechargeable battery that aims to help cut running costs and be more environmentally friendly, says Fitzgerald.

It has a large, colour display screen with an “intuitive” home menu that shows all of the required patient signs, alongside cable ports compatible with multiple blood pressure and temperature-checking machines, for use across many hospitals. It has been made from medical-grade plastics, with the aim of making it easy to clean.

“Favourite” lists

Users can also cherry pick a selection of the most-checked patient signs, which can be grouped together and accessed more easily rather than having to scroll through all signs.

“Biomedical engineers can spend minutes scrolling through test options, whereas they might only use a handful of tests regularly,” says Fitzgerald. “We took inspiration from everyday items like digital radios, meaning that users can recall their five ‘favourite’ sequences at the press of a button.”

The machine is also modular, meaning it can be taken apart, put back together and enhanced with new elements, so that it can be upgraded and turned into a new product in the future.

“It could save a lot of time”

“The PatSim200 is a bit like servicing a car,” says Beckwith. “It’s about spotting any problems before they become a real issue; maintenance and prevention.

“It could save a lot of time in intensive care, as equipment does not need to be taken to a medical workshop, and gives a degree of confidence that everything is functioning correctly,” he adds.

Fitzgerald adds: “Healthcare technology is becoming increasingly advanced, which makes it more important than ever to ensure patient safety by regularly testing medical equipment. This is a key part of ensuring quality patient care.”

The PatSim200 is currently available to buy online worldwide from Rigel Medical. Buyers need to request a quote, but individual machines cost roughly £1,000, according to Beckwith.

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