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August 12, 2009 > Life-Like Mannequin Mimics Symptoms to Create Teaching Moments

Life-Like Mannequin Mimics Symptoms to Create Teaching Moments

Washington Hospital's Patient Simulator Helps Clinicians Improve Their Skills

Bob is a 78-year-old with a history of heart disease and high blood pressure. Larry is younger, but he has uncontrolled diabetes and is at risk for a heart attack. Mary is an 85-year-old "patient" with pneumonia. She has diabetes and lung disease. At any moment, these "patients" might face serious health complications that could require physicians, nurses or respiratory therapists to take action to save their lives or help them and their families cope with their situation.

While their conditions are real, these "patients" are not. They represent three of 10 medical cases created for the patient simulator at the Washington Hospital Healthcare System Regional Simulation Center. The simulator is a life-like mannequin that can be programmed with a number of symptoms and health issues. It is a valuable teaching tool for beginning nursing students as well as experienced nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists and other medical team members, who are embracing this new technology as a way to review their skills and increase their clinical knowledge of patient care situations.

"The simulator can respond like a real person," says Sam Avila, RN, nurse manager at the Simulation Center. "It has a blood pressure, heart rate, heart sounds, pulses, lung sounds, and it even breathes and sweats."
'Patient' is a Computer

The patient simulator is a complex computer that can be programmed with scenarios that play out just like a real patient. For example, Mary could be programmed to have dangerously low blood sugar due to her diabetes, a serious condition that affects a large number of people in the community. It can be life-threatening, especially for patients like Mary.

"We have real charts for each of the 'patients' and we create different medical situations for them depending on what we are trying to teach or what skills we want students to learn," Avila explained.

Through a partnership with California State University East Bay, Washington Hospital trains nursing students using the patient simulator. Nursing students learn basic patient care and practice communicating with doctors, nurses, patients and their families by role-playing different scenarios.

"In one scenario, Mary is going to have surgery later that day and the nurse has to explain to her and her family that she can't have any food. Mary is hungry and she's not very happy about it," Avila says. "The patient simulator helps nursing students become better prepared to communicate effectively and provide safe patient care when they start working with real patients."

Washington Hospital's New Graduate RN training program for recent nursing school graduates also incorporates the simulator into its curriculum, using more advanced scenarios.

"The patient simulator helps teach the new RNs critical thinking, decision-making, communication and the clinical skills needed to provide quality patient care to our community," Avila says.
Medical Team Improves Patient Care

Physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other members of the medical team at Washington Hospital are using the patient simulator to improve patient care. It is helping to bring a higher level of clinical knowledge to nurses and doctors, and raise awareness about diabetes and other medical issues, according to Avila.

"The patient simulator is helping nurses identify critically low blood sugars quicker so we can start treatment faster," she said.

Physicians are also using the simulator to increase their critical care skills. Dr. Carmen Agcaoili, a board certified critical care specialist and intensivist at Washington Hospital, teaches a two-day course for physicians using the patient simulator.

Critical care medicine involves specialized care for patients who are seriously ill, including respiratory or heart failure, body-wide infection such as sepsis, and care after surgery.

"The simulator allows physicians the opportunity to practice their skills in a wide variety of critical care scenarios," says Avila. "Having the simulator really compresses the amount of time it takes to sharpen their knowledge through hands-on practice."

This article is also featured in the current issue of Health Signs, a quarterly magazine published by Washington Hospital Healthcare System. If you would like to be added to the Health Signs mailing list, please call Washington Hospital's Community Relations Department at (510) 791-3417.






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