TORONTO - During a medical emergency, every second counts.
What a doctor decides to do or not do, and how quickly, could mean the difference between whether a patient lives or dies.
It's a lesson that has long been taught by Canadian medical schools, but now it's not just coming by way of a professor or a textbook.
Over the past few years, some universities have increasingly been using new technologies, including video games and robots, to teach the next generation of doctors. The tools are aimed at helping students become better doctors and improving patient care.
Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., is one such institution that's training with technology.
"In the old days, (students would) be learning in the hospital or practising on each other," explained Kim Garrison, operations manager at the school of medicine's new clinical simulation centre.
Today, a doctor-in-training most likely will have clocked hours of hands-on training using new technologies before they even set foot inside a hospital.
The teaching clinic, which opened last year, boasts five state-of-the-art pliable plastic mannequins for students to practice everything from properly inserting an IV to learning how to resuscitate someone who goes into cardiac arrest.
The three male and two female mannequins can be programmed to simulate various medical conditions and have everything from fake veins, so students can practice drawing blood, to lungs that mimic breathing, and even eyes that dilate.
The female mannequins come with babies and can undergo normal or breached deliveries.
An instructor in an adjacent room controls the mannequins' physical reactions, like quickening their pulse, depending on the students' actions.
Garrison said these simulation labs have increasingly become the standard of education in medical schools.
"This type of technology enables students to learn at a comfortable rate," she said. "Students learn more quickly because they realize it's an environment where they can practice."
The school also uses a program similar to a Nintendo Wii video gaming console that allows students to hone their budding surgical skills.
These labs look like a typical operating room at any major hospital. A mannequin is on a table hooked up to a machine with a screen that monitors its' heart rate and other vitals.
As the student performs the surgery, they have to follow their progress on the screen, like any operating room doctor would.
Adam Szulewski, a third-year resident at Kingston General Hospital, said there is little margin for error in medicine, so simulation labs help provide students with necessary experience without putting a patient at risk.
"The beauty of simulation is that it's in a safe environment," he said. "No one is being judged and there is not a real person's life at stake."
Szulewski said the extra practice time in these types of exercises also gives students a confidence boost before they get sent out to treat live patients.
"Technology in medicine has really paved the way for better education in general, for more problem-based, case-based problem solving as opposed to simply regurgitating information out of a textbook, which is not what medicine is about," he said.
"Medicine is all about applying what you've learned to real life situations."
At the University of British Columbia, Dave Lampron, the director of MedIT, said the facility's medical school has moved toward putting more interactive web lessons into their curriculum.
Currently, the school uses a computer game program with virtual patients to teach students how to perform a diagnosis.
Using a series of videos, photos, testimonials and texts, students have to diagnose the patient and decide what kind of care to provide.
An instructor is also able to adjust a number of factors in the game, like the time constraints on when a diagnosis must be reached or have the student learn the most cost-effective way to treat a patient.
Lampron said such games allow students to move from being someone who just watches proceedings to someone who takes action.
"In the past, a student has been more of an observer. You look over a professional's shoulder kind of thing and watch what the person does," he said.
"Ultimately at some point in time, they hand the metaphorical wheel over to you."
The school is also using technology to make medical education more accessible, particularly in rural regions throughout British Columbia.
Lampron said a handful of students and medical residents take classes remotely in the province's rural northern, interior and Vancouver Island communities.
The program, which started in 2005, has resulted in many benefits, he said.
It allows students to study in the small town they live and work in, and also allows them access to video conferences with medical specialists and professors all with a click of a mouse.
At the university's main campus in Vancouver, all of the school's lectures are uploaded online.
When the technology was first introduced, professors were worried it would lead to few students attending class. Instead, the attendance numbers have only dipped slightly.
"Students approach lectures differently," said Lampron.
"Before, they would feverishly take notes, cram in as much as they could because it was the only opportunity. Now our students leave that content digestion to another time. They use that time for more interactivity with the instructor."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version contained an incorrect spelling for Adam Szulewski's last name