VA plans expanded use of medical simulators
Published: January 27, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Dr. Robert Petzel notes that airline pilots would never fly a passenger jet for the first time without hundreds of hours of training in an aircraft simulator. But, within the medical community, the first time a physician draws blood or inserts a breathing tube, it's usually on a sick patient.
"Historically, all training in medicine is done on live patients," said Petzel, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "You have to ask yourself if that's really the best way to do this."
His answer is no. In coming years, the VA will put a new emphasis on medical simulators, in an effort to provide more comprehensive training for all physicians and better care for patients.
On Friday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will tour the planned Florida site of the new Medical Simulation Center for Excellence, part of a larger VA medical expansion effort in the state. The facility won't officially open its doors for another 18 months, but the department has already mandated simulation training for drawing blood and resuscitating patients for all medical staffers.
That means work with high-tech mannequins -- complete with mock veins and intricate pain sensors -- and mock-ups of emergency rooms where teams of medical experts can hone their skills. Petzel said in coming years, the staff hopes to expand that to include laparoscopic surgery simulators, intensive care simulators, mock-ups for emergency room crisis training, and a host of other medical education programs.
The department also recently hired Dr. Haru Okuda, head of New York City's Institute for Medical Simulation and Advanced Learning, to head up the new VA effort.
"I'd expect in coming years that every physician in the country will have had some contact with simulators before they treat patients," Petzel said. "Our expectation is that we'll use our national program to spread simulation techniques throughout our system, and then beyond."