UC Davis physicians use high-tech virtual system

July 16, 2003

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- For decades pilots have used flight simulators to hone their skills. Now UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center is establishing a Center for Virtual Care to house technology that enhances training for physicians, nurses and other members of the health-care team.

The UC Davis center includes a patient simulation system that allows teams of physicians and nurses to practice advanced interventional procedures, such as the treatment of acute heart attacks and the placement of stents. The system is based on technology long used for flight simulators in the military and aerospace industry.

The centerpiece of the new system at UC Davis is "Simantha™," a simulated patient equipped with patented, tactile force-feel technology that allows for distinct and unique experiences for each physician based on individual response time, actions and decisions. The realistic clinical environment allows users to "feel" lesions in blood vessels and to hear patient comments during the procedure. These and other visual and tactile elements contribute to holding the physician's attention, challenging his or her expertise, and enhancing the opportunity for learning.

"Simulation systems allow health-care providers to practice procedures, new devices and rare cases in real time in a risk-free environment," said Reginald Low, chief of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis. "Students, residents, fellows, and experienced physicians at UC Davis and at hospitals throughout the Northern California region will benefit from the technology, which has a realistic feel and simulates clinical practice."

Low has more than 20 years of experience as a practicing cardiologist and a clinical investigator. Recognized for his ability to incorporate leading-edge technology with the highest quality of patient care, he is at the forefront of bringing new minimally-invasive techniques for diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease and other disorders to practicing physicians.

Other UC Davis physicians, including David Dawson, associate professor and chief of vascular surgery, and Daniel Link, professor and chief of interventional radiology, also believe simulators have a role in medical education.

"Simulation systems enable physicians to learn new procedures, measure their level of skill and maintain proficiency in interventional procedures," said Dawson, who also is a former flight surgeon with experience flying high-performance jets. He has used advanced flight simulators for jet trainers, flight aircraft and the space shuttle, as well as virtual reality trainers and computerized patient simulators for training military physicians.

"Simulation systems also create an environment whereby physicians, nurses and other professionals can practice skills as members of a team," said Link.

There also is growing evidence that the use of simulators can improve patient safety by reducing errors, decreasing complication rates and differentiating physician skill levels -- important components of quality improvement programs at hospitals throughout the nation.

The UC Davis Center for Virtual Care is the first site in California to use Simantha, which is part of the SimSuite® Education System from Medical Simulation Corporation of Denver. The system is equipped to mimic the range of conditions and variables that a health-care provider would experience with an actual patient, such as diverse anatomy. Each training session consists of three phases: pre-procedure briefing, simulated procedure and post-procedure briefing.

In the briefing, the user receives an overview of the case, presented by a computer-generated, animated "doctor" who relates the patient's history, including health conditions, allergies, heart rate, blood pressure and medications. Laboratory results and displays of electrocardiograms and chest X-rays are also available. After the user chooses a treatment plan, the system provides feedback on the selection.

During the simulated procedure, users respond to conditions and responses they would encounter during an actual case. For example, when clearing blocked arteries, the user advances a catheter through the patient's anatomy while watching the progress on a video monitor with a real-time X-ray image. The images are based on real patient scenarios and images culled from medical specialists throughout the country. Working with this library of real cases, physicians learn to select and use catheters, balloons, stents and other equipment, just as they would in a real catheterization lab. The post-procedure briefing provides the user with an assessment of how he or she performed during the simulation.

Patient simulation systems are enhancing the school and medical center's ongoing efforts to provide state-of-the-art medical education and patient care. In addition to the SimSuite Education System, UC Davis has been using patient simulators by METI Corporation and surgical robotics technology from Computer Motion, Inc.

University of California - Davis Health System

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