(CNN) — Even before the examination begins, it’s clear Ann Martinez isn’t well.
Her breathing is labored. You can tell by the raspy sounds and jerky rise and fall of her chest. Clad in her underwear, she waits quietly for the doctor, letting out the occasional cough.
The physician starts by going over her history, asking a few questions and taking her vitals. Martinez, a smoker with a family history of heart disease, recently had knee-replacement surgery. She confirms she’s having trouble breathing and complains of some chest pain. While checking her pulse, the doctor notices that her heartbeat is faster than normal.
On their own, the symptoms are too common to reach any immediate conclusion. It’s possible she has a simple chest cold, but the signs could indicate something more dangerous, even fatal. More tests are needed.
There’s no risk of Martinez dying, however, because she isn’t real. She is a naturalistic, interactive virtual patient that lives on a computer screen. The simulation is part of i-Human Patients, one of a new generation of computer programs used by medical schools to train students and other professionals.