Practice Makes Perfect

Published: Nov. 23, 2019 at 8:50 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Improving quality and reducing error is a major goal in the healthcare industry. A local medical school is a leader in making sure its students get plenty of practice before ever meeting a live patient.

Doctors make life and death decisions all of the time, but imagine a place they can make these mistakes and not kill patients. It's happening right here in New Orleans.

It looks like something out of a Science Fiction movie. They’re hearts beat. They’re chest rise and fall with every breath. They even talk.

Stepping on to a floor of the LSU Health Sciences building in New Orleans requires a double take as glass framed exam rooms reveal a host of patients that on first glance seem to be flesh and blood. LSU Health Sciences Director of Simulation Operations Daryl Lofaso is ecstatic about the program. He said, “I've been here 17 years in this role. I have seen it grow from something simple to now we think anything is possible."

The patients are actually high tech mannequins that can mimic any number of ailments and respond to treatment.

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at LSU Health Sciences in New Orleans Charles Hilton says they are an incredible teaching tool. He said, “You give a drug. They respond like the drug. You give the wrong drug. They respond like the wrong drug. Happens all the time, but we can hit the reset button on these. We can't do that on a patient."

The simulators allow medical students to practice everything from diagnosis to technical procedures.

Hilton said, “As my mother said practice makes perfect and the ability to practice complex team oriented activities makes them better docs before they go into the clinical setting." He says the kind of responsiveness medical simulators provide give medical students the repetition they need to think and act quickly during stressful situations.

"One of the problems that we would have before is that people would panic when they got into situations like that and now it's second nature," said Hilton.

Andrew Johnstone is the LSU Emergency Medicine program chief resident. He said, “I would say we are much better doctors when we are practicing and the higher quality of our practice the better doctors we are and this is about as high quality practice as you can get.”

Johnstone finds the ability to look at statistics like pulse rate and blood pressure coupled with the effects of treatment from medication or CPR invaluable.

He said, "Anyone can read or listen to a podcast, but until you really do it, have it in front of you and you are under the gun it won't ever stick as well."

In this exercise Johnstone and his classmates were tasked with diagnosing an unresponsive infant.

Johnstone said, "Pediatrics always makes us a little nervous so it's good to be put under the gun."

Nearby Lofaso and an instructor worked with second year students on a basic procedure.

He said, “Today I was doing lumbar punctures."

The lesson used both full simulators and partial body simulators.

"Everybody thinks of medical school the first two years it's books, books and knowledge. This gives them the practical aspect and hands on experience and understanding," said Lofaso.

Simulators come in all forms. This is a robotics surgery simulated operating room where surgeons from all over the country can come to perfect the latest techniques.

Hilton said, "You may have wondered how your doctor back home learns how to put the newest knee in."

Hilton said these types of labs with cutting edge equipment benefit experienced doctors as well as students.

Hilton also said, "Every weekend it's full of people learning the latest surgical procedures."

While most schools facilities now embrace the technology Hilton said, "At one time we were alone." LSU began building their lab in 2001.

"Simulation was just being invented at that time and very fortunately the board of regents had educational enhancement grants. We were able to write one, get our first simulator," Hilton said.

Nearly 20 years later the school holds patents that make its simulators some of the most sophisticated in use even teaching the lesson of death.

Lafaso explains that there are so many scenarios that a doctor must prepare for during their career. He said, “There are some times we do set up for the residency population that will allow them to have a patient that is supposed to die and help them understand that this is what happens and help them understand what they need to do and prepare. How to speak to the family after that event even though they have done everything that they could. There’s still a learning curve there too.”

According to Hilton, “That is the whole point of this. To improve patient safety and quality.”

A collection of teaching partners that help new doctors thrive and experienced doctors excel in the ever changing world of medicine.

Medical simulators got their start in aviation, military training and space exploration.

Once the simulator programs could replicate detailed issues with the heart and lungs, Hilton says it was a natural those tools would shift over to the medical community.

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