Computerized Dummy Brings Auburn Medical Classroom to Life

Jul 30, 2013

Patrick Richards, “Pat,” couldn’t stop coughing, just as two nurses at Auburn Community Hospital rushed into his room.  An abnormal heartbeat sent the 50-year-old man to ACH’s emergency department Monday afternoon, where he later had a stroke and a heart attack.  He almost died, but two nurses and a respiratory therapist revived him through CPR and electric therapy.

Auburn Community Hospital clinical staff roll Pat onto his side after the simulator starts gagging during a training session on Monday, July 30, 2013.
Credit Valerie Crowder, WAER News

A miraculous story, if Pat was a human.  Instead, he’s a mechanized mannequin, who can breathe, blink, talk and cough.  He even has a heartbeat.

Many medical classrooms throughout the country use human patient simulators, like Pat, to train students, as well as clinical staff.  These robotic dummies were designed to ensure patient safety by providing health care practitioners with a hands-on way to train.  For ACH nurses and other staff, simulators train them to revive patients who suffer sudden, life-threatening conditions, boost their confidence and enhance their clinical judgment.

Cardiac arrest, sepsis, respiratory depression, stroke symptoms and pneumonia all qualify as what Amy Bunn, an RN and staff educator, and her co-workers consider “high-risk, low-volume.”  ACH nurses don’t regularly encounter these potentially fatal conditions. 

“Because they’re not things that they get to see all the time, being able to practice with those situations, when they see it in real life, they’ll be more prepared,” Bunn said.   

Before Pat joined ACH’s education department, nurses worked with dummies that weren’t computerized.  Then, their trainers gave them cues before they could proceed.  Now, staff educators don’t even stand in the same room as the trainees.  They watch from a live webcam feed. 

Nurses conduct CPR on Pat, a human patient simulator, at Auburn Community Hospital on Monday, July 30, 2013.
Credit Valerie Crowder, WAER News

This “real-life” preparation leads to greater confidence, Tammy Sunderlin, ACH’s director of nursing, points out.  She’s seen her nurses become more comfortable helping real patients after training with the simulator. 

“It’s a whole different scenario when that information isn’t being said to you,” said Sunderlin. “You’re assessing the patient.  You’re relying on your skills to make these determinations.”

After the mock-scenarios, participants meet with their instructors for what they call a “debriefing.”  Staff educators review the video with trainees.  They also discuss possible improvements.

This review process helps nurses think more critically, which is important for developing good clinical judgment, Bunn says. 

“They actually get the chance to see themselves.  See what happened, and then critique themselves,” said Bunn.  “What could I have done differently? What would I have changed?  And normally in the clinical setting, we don’t have that luxury.” 

Auburn’s hospital received "Pat" from its liability insurer, CHART, in April.  The company offered ACH the simulator, free of charge, so long as the staff education department agreed to conduct at least eight training sessions a month.