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SUNY Upstate Medical University opens simulation center to enhance training of emergency medicine residents, students and others

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - They breathe, bleed, talk, blink their eyes and have a pulse and blood pressure, but they are not alive. Sounds like hype for a new science fiction thriller. But no, these are the attributes of three new teaching tools at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Human patient simulators or computerized medical mannequins are among the new technologies now in operation in SUNY Upstate's new emergency medicine simulation training center. The center, now in operation at 550 E. Genesee St., is a 1,200 square foot teaching laboratory made to resemble a real-life emergency room with two emergency bays, crash carts, medication dispensers, ventilators and patient monitors. The purchase of the human patient simulators and the development of the emergency medicine simulation center was made possible by a $350,000 federal grant.

"What we have done with this center is brought the emergency room into the classroom," said John McCabe, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. "This center enables us to observe and teach in a more structured, but still realistic setting. I think the benefit to our students and others who train here will be invaluable."

The key component of the simulation center is the human patient simulator. SUNY Upstate has three patient simulators and a fourth will be added shortly. Instead of hearts and arteries, these computerized medical mannequins are wired with hard drives, chips and complex software that enables them to talk, groan, emulate sickness and produce human-like secretions, including tears, blood and urine. The patient simulators are developed by Medical Education Technologies Inc. of Sarasota, Fla.

Using these computerized medical mannequins, medical students, emergency medicine residents and fellows can perform all the necessary skills, such as patient assessment, intubation, wound and trauma care to enhance their emergency medicine training. Most importantly, these mannequins will respond accordingly to the treatment or drug intervention prescribed by the students

"These high-tech patients will provide students and clinicians with an immediate response to their actions, taking this teaching moment far beyond practicing skills," McCabe noted.

Each computerized mannequin can be programmed to simulate a particular health event, such as a trauma or asthma attack, for example, thus making teaching emergency medicine a more practical endeavor. "If we want students to be exposed to an incident such as a heart attack, we might have wait hours or days in the emergency department," he said. "With the human patient simulators, we can schedule one at 2 p.m. tomorrow."

For training purposes students will not know what medical scenario they face until they see the "patient." Just like in a real ER experience, students will review the patient triage notes and discuss treatment options with the rest of their student medical team.

Technicians and faculty, sitting in another room behind a two-way mirror, provide the voice of the patient and have the ability to change the mannequin's medical condition. A video camera tapes student interaction during the scenario. A classroom adjacent to the simulated emergency department provides space for faculty and students to review the scenario.

The acquisitions of human patient simulators marks SUNY Upstate's first foray into simulated medical teaching that enables hands-on patient experience, which is gaining ground across the country. Patient simulators are in use at such institutions as NASA, Center for Domestic Preparedness, the Cleveland Clinic and medical schools at Harvard, UCLA, Stanford and Mount Sinai, among others. "As more and more facilities begin to train with patient simulators, we are gaining a better understanding of just how significant they are as teaching tools," said Deb Stehle, project director of the emergency medicine simulation center.

The recently opened Alternate site Emergency Department at the New York State Fairgrounds, which was sponsored in part by SUNY Upstate, and the university's Center for Emergency Preparedness, combined with the new emergency medicine simulation center create an abundance of emergency medicine teaching and training opportunities.

"Providing our students, residents and clinicians with an enhanced training program in emergency medicine is what we do best," McCabe said. "These recent initiatives will enable us to do it better for the sake of the communities we serve."