Devices & Technology

Simulated NICU Allows 3D Training to Care for the Littlest Patients

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By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer

Pilots are trained in flight simulators; astronauts travel virtually into space to train for missions; and the military prepares for combat in 3D. Soon nurses who provide care for vulnerable newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will join the ranks of professionals turning toward video game technology for specialized training.

NICU Critical Decision Simulation (CDS) software has been developed at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, in Falls Church, Virginia, to train NICU nurses on the delicate procedures tiny patients undergo in the unit. Created in partnership with Rival Interactive, a video game development company based in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, the 3D tool is aimed at protecting patient safety while educating new NICU nurses on critical clinical situations.

The idea for the simulator was conceived several years ago by NICU nurse Jerrod Ullah, RN, during a vacation conversation with his friend, and video game developer, Jim Omer.

“He started talking about what he did, and I started talking about what I did, and the light bulb came on about how great it would be to bring gaming to nursing,” Ullah explained. “Nursing is so much about education that we thought it would be the perfect fit.”

After kicking the idea around and pitching it to hospital administrators, the duo, along with NICU clinical nurse specialist Jill Duncan, RN, MSN, MPH, received donor funding and were able to create a prototype for training nurses in specific skill sets, such as IV insertion, hanging drips and medication administration. Nurses make decisions about the care of a newborn on the screen and are able to see the effects or consequences of these decisions.

“The designers at Rival Interactive are incredible at animating the baby to make it look real to life. We wanted to immerse the user in the animation so they believe it’s real, so that if the baby deteriorates, you can see what would really happen,” Ullah explained.

“The other thing,” Ullah added, “is that we’re training low-frequency, high-risk events. Much like a flight simulator training on an engine failure, we’re having high-risk events happen so that the nurse will have to intervene to make the patient improve.”

Ullah and Duncan based the simulated training on evidence-based practices and standards from the American Academy of Pediatrics so that it is able to be used at hospitals across the country. While the project is in need of more funds to reach completion, Ullah is confident that the software is a tool that will be of great use in the NICU and beyond. In fact, the team hopes to expand the simulator to pediatrics and the PICU.

“It’s a perfect match for nursing in general, but the NICU especially, because you have a high skill set, a lot of technology and very little room for error,” Ullah concluded.

“This system is going to be on-demand training, and from a nursing standpoint, it will decrease infection, increase safety and increase performance,” he added. “The best way to learn is to do, and this gets as close to doing as possible.”

For more information, visit the Web sites of Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children and Rival Interactive.

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