Life or Death Decision: TraumaMan Offers Humane, Effective Way to Learn Trauma Care


In emergency rooms across the country, physicians and other medical professionals make split-second decisions that can mean life or death for their patients. Before facing such critical moments, they must practice their skills. Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS®) courses train physicians who are in a position to provide the first hours of emergency care to trauma victims.

The course, which employs guidelines set by the American College of Surgeons, teaches and certifies medical professionals in standardized life-saving procedures such as chest tube insertion (used to treat conditions that can cause the lung to collapse); peritoneal lavage (used to determine if an intra-abdominal injury has occurred); and pericardiocentesis (relieves pressure on the heart caused by a buildup of fluid).

Many ATLS classes continue to use live, anesthetized pigs, goats, dogs, or sheep. After the course is over, the animals are killed.

However, Simulab’s TraumaMan® system replaces animals, using perfect human anatomy. It is the only simulator approved as an alternative to live animals or cadavers for ATLS certification. TraumaMan—created by Seattle inventor Chris Toly—is an anatomical human body manikin designed for students to practice the surgical procedures taught in the ATLS course. It contains four surgical sites for skills practice: the abdomen, chest area, neck, and ankle base.

The sites include a simulated tissue structure that resembles all of the tissue layers of humans, including the skin, fat, and muscle. Under the tissue structure, students will find simulated cartilage, ligaments, and veins, as well as abdominal organs. Inflatable lungs simulate respiration. The organs and cavities of the manikin can be filled with fluids to lend realism to the practice procedure. When a student makes an incision on TraumaMan, it bleeds.

A 2002 study concluded that the overall responses to using TraumaMan for ATLS training were favorable. Students found TraumaMan to be superior to the animal model for many skills. As a result, more than 12,000 doctors a year now use the system to practice their trauma skills.

The TraumaMan system can be leased for varied lengths of time with costs as low as $100 to $150 per student. The system can also be purchased for $23,500, which includes a maintenance agreement and some replacement “skins.”

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1. Earnest F.J. Block, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.C.C.M., et al.  Use of a Human Patient Simulator for the Advanced Trauma Life Support Course. The American Surgeon. July 2002. 648-651.
Reprinted from GOOD MEDICINE, Spring 2006 Issue, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.