Learning patients: High-tech lab prepares future nurses, engineers for real clinical settings [The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. :: ]
(Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 25--It's a place where students can save lives, over and over and over.
Or, maybe more important, fail to save them -- and learn from the experience.
On Thursday, the University of Tennessee colleges of engineering and nursing will open the HITS -- Health Information Technology and Simulation -- Lab in the former Student Health Center building at Andy Holt Avenue and Pat Summitt Drive.
While the middle floor of the three-story building is used by Plant Sciences, the top and bottom floors have been renovated, ready for patients and future practitioners. Third-floor areas include exam rooms, a hospital emergency department, a labor-and-delivery room and a neonatal intensive care unit. And in the beds, patients "live" and "breathe": medical manikins that can mimic bodily functions, emit fluids, react to lights and communicate with students, who learn how to deal with both chronic conditions and emergency scenarios.
The high-tech simulators are not new to the College of Nursing, which has used them for years, but having them in real-life settings is a welcome change, said Susan Fancher, director of simulation for the college.
"We're able to make it look as real as it can," Fancher said. "Students have to come in and figure out what the patients need, before they ever get to a clinical setting."
Students are on their own with "patients" -- each room has video cameras, and teachers control a scenario from a computer room down the hall. The iCare software program, which mimics real-world experience, was developed by Tami Wyatt and Matt Bell of the College of Nursing and Xueping Li and Yo Indranoi of the College of Engineering. It was bought by Wolters Kluwer Health, which renamed it DocuCare, and is used in more than 350 universities worldwide.
Because of the technology involved, HITS will be a training site for College of Engineering students as well, who will get "instant feedback" and make adjustments. And Fancher and Wyatt, an assistant professor, are working on a program to train UT theater students to be "standardized patients" or family members, playing the part of people with complicated emotions and/or psychological diagnoses.
The bottom floor of the building is outfitted as an apartment, where live people will stay, simulating patients in hospice or assisted living. Sensors placed throughout the bedroom, bath, kitchen and living/dining room will allow students to track "patients'" movements.
Wyatt and others wrote grants to fund the $2 million lab. The College of Nursing also raised funds through its annual NightinGala, and much of the furniture and medical equipment was donated.
"We pulled things together and polished them up," Wyatt said. The college also instituted a "recycling" program for supplies like catheters, tubing and needles, which are repackaged as they would be new, after being used on manikins. "They need to know how to handle those," Wyatt said.
Meanwhile, Fancher has a recipe book that lets her cook up realistic bodily fluids, such as pus, mucus, mechonium and vomit, which can be placed in the manikins.
"That's something students have to get used to," she said.
"Students can study and prepare for things all they want, but they never know what it is like until they are face with the real thing," Wyatt said, adding that the lab "confronts them with the unknown."
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