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Format: 04/18/2014
Format: 04/18/2014


Hospital News & More: Simulation Technology Teaches Caregivers to Handle Stressful Situations

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

By Donamarie Wilfong, DNP, RN
When a life is at stake; the stress is real. The adrenaline is real. The emotions are real. Even when the patient is not.
Each day, doctors, nurses and pre-hospital professionals make split-second decisions to protect their patients, responding quickly to changing circumstances in a hectic and emotionally-charged environment.
The Simulation, Teaching and Academic Research Center – or STAR Center – at West Penn Allegheny Health System is a virtual hospital. From the ambulance, to the ICU, to the delivery room, STAR allows aspiring and practicing healthcare professionals to perfect their skills in virtual reality, gaining confidence and proficiency prior to true patient encounters.
STAR opened with eight lifelike mannequins used to provide training in fields such as anesthesiology, surgery and emergency medicine. These “patients” speak, breathe, cough and mimic other symptoms to provide students with realistic learning experiences and immediate feedback on their treatment decisions. A new simulator added in 2009 displays realistic eye movements and is specially equipped for training in Basic and Advanced Life Support.
Responses to fluctuations in their patient’s condition are filmed so that participants in the cases can review them with instructors and peers and look for opportunities for improvement.
“The debriefing process following a simulation is invaluable,” said Andrew Adams, Associate Program Director, Department of Medicine, West Penn Hospital. “Our ‘mock code’ scenarios require an entire team to respond to the patient’s sudden deterioration and reviewing our performance afterward helps us to discover the best way to work together under very stressful circumstances.”
Just as simulator training dramatically improved airline safety by reducing pilot errors, medical simulation has the potential to reduce medical errors and save lives by giving practitioners practical, hands-on experience before they treat live patients.
Task trainers available at STAR make it possible for healthcare professionals to rehearse specialized procedures such as lumbar puncture and ultrasound-guided central line placement in an authentic clinical environment.
In 2008, STAR introduced three unique simulation technologies to help first responders and professionals who care for newborns get the most realistic training possible.
A full-size ambulance cab – the first of its kind in western Pennsylvania – lets trainees experience what it’s like to deliver emergency care within a confined space, complete with the distractions of lights and a siren.
STAR provided the ideal educational setting for aspiring paramedics, according to Anthony Cuda, Program Coordinator of the Public Safety Institute at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). CCAC graduated its first class of paramedic students trained entirely at the STAR Center in October.
“Our students are able to practice their skills in the ambulance simulator prior to going out on their first ride-a-longs,” Mr. Cuda said. “It’s very beneficial for students to experience the cramped quarters of an ambulance prior to attempting to treat a live patient in that environment.”
Another first for the region is STAR’s simulated Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which includes an incubator and a life-like neonate mannequin that can have seizures and change colors.
STAR also features a Family Birthing Center, equipped with mother and baby simulators to prepare healthcare providers to handle routine deliveries as well as those with complications.
“The birthing and neonate simulators have helped our team hone their skills in caring for our tiniest and sickest patients,” said Cynthia Mueller, RN, West Penn Hospital NICU. “But, the equipment is especially helpful in training health professionals from throughout the region who often must deliver and care for premature infants until they can be transported to a regional referral center with a level III NICU.”
The West Penn Allegheny Health System has one purpose – to improve the health of the people of western Pennsylvania.
The STAR Center is proud to provide physicians, nurses and support professionals with the tools they need to fulfill that mission and give future generations of clinicians the knowledge, experience and confidence to provide exceptional medical care.

Donamarie Wilfong is Director of Clinical Operations for the STAR Center at West Penn Allegheny Health System. For more information on STAR, email simulation@wpahs.org or visit www.wpahs.org/star.

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