Earlier this month, comedian Rob Delaney caught attention after tweeting an image of a man performing an, shall we say, invasive exam on a robotic butt positioned in front of a large monitor displaying a virtual doctor’s examination room. The tweet provided no details about the image, and not being content with making ample backside jokes, some industrious folks have hunted down the story behind the intriguing image.
This particular robot — part of a robot, that is — is named Patrick, and as you may have guessed, it is used by medical students as a simulation in preparation for the real thing. The simulator was developed in part by Dr. Benjamin Lok, who worked with Dr. Carla Pugh of the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Pugh had created mannequins with prostate sensors, and Dr. Lok and his team then created a simulator to go alongside the robot, resulting in an overall doctor-patient simulation that is realistic.
The simulator, which you can see on the monitor behind the robot, presents a virtual patient that the medical student can communicate with, providing responses and feedback based on information gathered from the sensors inside the robot. By combining these two components, both the hands-on exam and the patient interaction is possible in a no-risk environment for those who aren’t ready to dive into real-world scenarios. Patrick, the virtual person/robotic butt combo, is designed to act nervous when the medical student informs that a prostate exam is necessary, for example, helping develop empathy.
Said Dr. Lok: “Intimate exams (including the clinical breast exam and prostate exam) are extremely high stakes and high impact scenarios for medical students. However, currently there are few tools to enable the practice and acclimation to what are very anxiety generating interactions. Currently, students receive minimal practice and interaction in intimate exams due to the high cost for training and high anxiety nature of the exams.”
The development process took place in conjunction with The National Science Foundation, and has had pilot tests at the University of Florida and Drexel University. The folks behind the invention hope it becomes mandatory training for medical students in the future.