Twenty-six-year-old Michael Reynolds is in a dire situation. He's experiencing a severe shortness of breath and his inhaler isn't helping. Laying on a hospital bed, medical personnel are trying to fix his condition. Reynolds is having an asthma attack. Thankfully, the 6-foot-tall, 175-lb. man is a mannequin and his symptoms are just a figment of the imagination.
The mannequin, called SimMan, is a computerized patient simulator that talks, breathes and has a pulse just like a living person. A team of about 30 Bay Area professors from various medical schools gathered at ValleyCare education offices in Livermore last Thursday to practice using SimMan so they would be able to then teach their students how to use the dummy.
The mannequin is a big improvement over other teaching methods, according to K.T. Waxman, who is the program director for the Bay Area Simulation Coalition and a registered nurse. Before, students were using prosthetic arms and oranges to practice such things as giving a shot or taking a blood pressure measurement, she said.
"The aviation industry uses this already," Waxman said. "We want the trend for the next wave of teaching where we can guarantee a great experience where you don't have to use a real person (to practice with)."
The mannequin, staged in a room at the Mertes and Feit Center next door to ValleyCare Health System, costs $35,000, according to Derek Thibodeau, who is a sales manager for Laerdal, the company that makes SimMan.
Included with SimMan is a patient monitor, a compressor and a laptop equipped with computer software that can enact real life emergency scenarios such as heart and asthma attacks.
Waxman said a training session with SimMan is planned in September at San Ramon Regional Medical Center as well as a visit to Cal State East Bay. The California Institute for Nursing & Health Care (CINHC) is a Berkeley-based nonprofit that received a grant to provide the simulation session. ValleyCare hosted the training as an in-kind donation to CINHC.
"I love it. It's a new way of teaching for students who may not get such an opportunity in real life," said Fred Stevenson, who attended the training and is from Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.
Lina Gage-Kelly, who is from Samuel Merritt College in Oakland, was taking the training session for the second time and said it reinforced what she's already learned.
"It gives me more energy to teach students," she said.
Raul Cano, who works in the emergency wing of John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, said "a lot of nurses are uncomfortable doing certain procedures on people and this gives them a better comfort level."
Not only does SimMan help med students learn to treat patients, it also helps all those attending to a patient, from the nurse to the doctor, to communicate more effectively, Waxman said.
The group engaged in a five-minute exercise where a fake patient (Reynolds) was having an asthma attack. Waxman played Reynolds' wife as Cano took the lead treating him with Stevenson assisting.
Simulations are recorded by a video camera which allows teachers to review them with students to find out what was done right and what they did wrong, Thibodeaux said.
"As fancy as the mannequin is, the debriefing is really the best tool," he said. "You can check if a person is checking the monitor too much and not paying attention to the patient or if they're checking the patient too much."
For information on SimMan and Laerdal, visit www.laerdal.com