Hands-on learning at Vail Valley Medical Center | VailDaily.com

Hands-on learning at Vail Valley Medical Center

Lindsay Warner
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

Special to the DailyBeginning next fall, the Mobile Simulation Lab will be available to Vail Valley Medical Center staff, and later to other medical and emergency personnel, for hands-on learning.

VAIL, Colorado – The patient’s eyes are glassy and his pulse erratic. As his blood pressure drops dangerously, and the heartbeat begins to falter, the medical team flies into action. In the next bay, a pregnant woman is undergoing a Caesarian procedure for a breech birth.

Even though they may not encounter these scenarios every day, these physicians and nurses do not waver. They know their patients – both high-tech mannequins – will live and go on to repeat their experiences for other healthcare providers in other training simulations hundreds of times.

This is the Vail Valley Medical Center’s Mobile Simulation Lab – or will be. It is still in the build phase. But next fall, the Mobile Simulation Lab will be available to Vail Valley Medical Center staff, and later to other medical and emergency personnel, for hands-on learning that will undoubtedly impact lives for years to come.

“Ongoing education is vital to keeping medical professionals’ skills current and patient care exemplary,” said Doris Kirchner, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Medical Center. “In a rural environment, such as Eagle County’s, accessing expert training and exposure to rapidly changing technology and methodology can be a challenge. The Mobile Simulation Lab will bring that training right to our doorstep, and the doorstep of all five VVMC campuses, ensuring all of our clinical staff provide the highest level of patient care possible.”

It was Kirchner who first brought the idea back to the hospital when she went on a tour of John Hopkins University and became so enthralled with the simulation training there, she missed the rest of the tour to investigate.

“It’s been a vision of mine to bring simulation training to the Vail Valley Medical Center for a long time,” Kirchner said.

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From the outside, the Vail Valley Medical Center’s Mobile Simulation Lab will look like your neighbor’s RV. Inside, the vehicle, on its custom-built, 40-foot chassis, will hold two patient care areas, with all the bells and whistles. There will be patient monitors, medical gases, suction capabilities, ventilators and all the specialized equipment needed for these intricate, potentially life-saving training sessions. A central control room, with dedicated computer stations and WOW (Wireless on Wheels) technology, will allow educators to control the simulation learning experience, creating an endless variety of medical scenarios.

The Mobile Simulation Lab is projected to cost just under $2 million for a five-year program. The program is largely funded by the Vail Valley Medical Center’s Annual Family Dinner Dance, which netted $432,639 for the lab at its December event at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa.

The Dinner Dance, now in its 31st year, “is a great holiday tradition for many families in the valley,” said Sarah Paladino, annual giving and special programs manager for Vail Valley Medical Center. “It is also the single largest fundraising event we hold each year.”

Generous private donors have also caught the vision and pitched in to help, along with the fundraising efforts by its dedicated Volunteer Corps Board Members, who helped to raise more than $30,000 in 2011.

“The exciting aspects of the Mobile Sim Lab are its incredible technology and mobility,” said Dick Woodrow, past president of the Volunteer Corps Board of Directors. “To be able to traverse around the country to train physicians and nurses on procedures that they don’t typically see is invaluable for a community hospital such as VVMC.”

Why a simulation lab?

The armed forces have been using simulation training for years.

“I had a rather extensive experience with military medics, who had been trained with a simulator,” said Dr. Barry Hammaker, medical director for Vail Valley Medical Center, who previously served as a doctor in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He explained how the training simulated the noise, darkness and smoke experienced during war zone medical treatment.

“What I found, is a medic who was trained in that simulator is better at dealing with a crisis than a medic who had all the same standards in medical training, but had not had real life simulation training,” Hammaker said. “Every time there is an interruption in the patient’s care, that can potentially have consequences – not only at the time, but down the road. This is another way to train people’s consciousness.”

The Mobile Simulation Lab will have not one, but a whole family of simulation mannequins. There will be an androgynous Adult Sim, who will have the capability of changing from man to woman, as training requires. There is also a Newborn Sim, Baby Sim and Sim Junior, as well as Sim Mom, who can be pregnant and give birth either conventionally or by C-section. The entire family of Sims will be fully capable of crying, bleeding, blinking and producing virtually any human function that might occur in a real medical emergency.

“The response to virtually any intervention can be simulated,” said Kathryn Fry, the medical center’s clinical educator, who has nurtured and helped shape the project from early inception. “The providers will have the opportunity to rehearse and practice things they don’t see over and over again to stay competent and confident. Training healthcare providers through the use of simulation in a team environment improves communication, and improved communications improves patient outcomes.”

In fact, the Mobile Sim Lab is an excellent opportunity to create seamless multidisciplinary teams of providers. Both the Eagle County Ambulance District and the Western Eagle County Ambulance District have thrown their support behind the program.

“We are supportive because high fidelity systems allow for the paramedic to gain real-world experience from simulated patient care scenarios,” said Will Dunn, clinical educator for the Eagle County Ambulance District. “An infant cardiac arrest is very uncommon, however it can be simulated well enough that the paramedic gains real experience from the scenario.”

“This is a real opportunity to elevate quality across the care continuum in this region, and everyone wins – the community, the healthcare providers and most importantly, the patients,” Fry said.

Lindsay Warner is communications manager for the Vail Valley Medical Center.