July 11, 2005
Traditionally, students have honed their medical skills and techniques on cadavers, not ideal patients, or by observing more experienced health care professionals treat patients. The HPS allows MEDVAMC students to jump directly into patient care by practicing over and over, and learning to manage emergency situations first-hand. “The simulator is utilized to enhance patient safety at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, one of our prime objectives. It provides a key element of effective learning,” said Salwa A. Shenaq, M.D., M.B.A., chief, Anesthesiology Service. The high-tech HPS actually looks and feels like a real human being. “He” is 5 foot 11, weighs 167 pounds, and has blue eyes and sandy-colored hair. Under the mannequin urethane-silicon skin are electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, and pneumatic devices that control eerily accurate bodily functions. “This patient simulator is no dummy,” said Hal Doerr, M.D., MEDVAMC physician consultant and director of the Houston Center for Advanced Patient Simulation. “It blinks, breathes, has a heartbeat, the pupils react to light and medications, a pulse that can be felt in five locations, and lung sounds. About 200 physiologic parameters can be changed so we can create any type of patient and then simulate medical events that could happen. HPS reacts to intravenous drugs, CPR, defibrillation, intubation, ventilation, catheterization, and a host of other procedures.” The circulatory system of the HPS is a series of hoses laid out like veins and arteries and can contain water or fake blood. Air bags in the chest pneumatically rise and fall to simulate breathing, while external mechanical "lungs" replicate the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This dramatically functional mannequin exhibits clinical signals so lifelike that students have been known to cry when the patient is not doing well. “Since we started using the Human Patient Simulator in April of this year, over 75 individuals have been trained. In addition to teaching our interns, residents and student registered nurse anesthetists about providing anesthesia, my goal is to train registered nurses on conscious or moderate sedation prior to certification, which will include crisis resource management simulation,” said Shenaq. “This will help nurses manage a crisis if it occurs in the real aspects of critical care patients.” “Practice sessions teach critical thinking and critical communication,” said Doerr. “Participants are able to develop their skills in a unique and non-threatening environment prior to caring for a patient in a clinical setting. They have the opportunity to deal with complex medical issues far earlier than other students.” The MEDVAMC continues to pursue the highest quality of health care possible for our Nation’s veterans. This unique HPS teaching laboratory is just one of many initiatives to ensure they are among the first to benefit from scientific advances in medicine.