One Smart Dummy: Patient Simulators Help Save Lives

sim labBob lay in his hospital bed, eyes wide open and looking at the ceiling, when his condition took a turn for the worse. After being monitored for chest pain and low blood pressure all day, he suddenly went into cardiac arrest. A care team rushed to his side, administering an electric shock that normalized his heart rhythm and brought him to a stable state.

A good outcome, to be sure. But just in case the doctors weren’t entirely satisfied with their performance, they can ask Bob to do it all over again. And again.

That’s the beauty of the new Rush Clinical Skills and Simulation Center, which uses sophisticated dummies like Bob to simulate real-world patient care for students and health care workers from Rush University Medical Center.

“Simulation is a safe place to make mistakes,” says Nathan Walsh, manager of the simulation center, which opens Sept. 8. “It’s where we practice unfamiliar techniques and new procedures, address our inefficiencies and learn from our errors, so that by the time a team treats your loved one, they know exactly how to get it right.”

The Rush Center for Clinical Skills and Simulation, with its first phase of construction complete, significantly increases the number of future doctors, nurses and other care givers who can be accommodated. It has three times more capacity than Rush’s old simulation laboratory.

The 7,000-square-foot center utilizes advanced technology to help create patient scenarios that vary from the flu to serious heart conditions. The event mimics what a health care worker would experience in real life.

Bob, for example, is among the smartest dummies in existence. Bob and the rest of the $250,000 patient simulators in the laboratory have pulses, bleed, blink, breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide — and even give birth.

A video recording system allows staff to review medical simulations in real time and evaluate trainees afterward in one of the debriefing rooms. The simulation laboratory rooms are designed to replicate the operating rooms in Rush’s hospital building, the Tower, so students and physicians feel more comfortable once they’re in real-life situations.

“When trainees eventually encounter live patients, they won’t have to worry about unfamiliar surroundings,” Walsh says “That helps ensure patient safety.”

The center’s capacity will increase to 15,000 square feet within the next two years during the final phase of construction. Additional building will add more space for patient simulators and 10 examination rooms for practicing typical patient visits.

In the examination rooms, trainees will work with live actors posing as patients and family members to help them strengthen their communication skills under difficult circumstances, such as when they have to deliver bad news about a diagnosis.

“Just as flight simulation provides pilots with realistic training before actually flying with real passengers, patient simulation provides Rush students with near-real-world experience before encountering patients face-to-face,” Walsh says. “Research shows that simulation training saves reduces medical errors and saves lives.”

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