Colleges of Nursing, Engineering Team Up For Health Simulation Lab

The pediatric room at the HITS Lab is nearly indistinguishable from one in a real hospital, right down to working medical equipment. The goal of the project, jointly brought to life by UT's College of Nursing and College of Engineering, is to put students in as real of an environment as possible.

The pediatric room at the HITS Lab is nearly indistinguishable from one in a real hospital, right down to working medical equipment. The goal of the project, jointly brought to life by UT’s College of Nursing and College of Engineering, is to put students in as real of an environment as possible.

If “practice makes perfect” holds true, medical and assisted living facilities could see a marked improvement thanks to a new center opening at UT in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday night.

UT’s College of Nursing and College of Engineering teamed together to come up with the HITS—Health Information Technology and Simulation—Lab, creating spaces identical to a variety of care facilities, complete with actors and manikins serving as patients.

Not to be confused with their mannequin counterparts, manikins are able to breathe, react to light, emit various fluids, and even answer questions via teachers.

“Student nurses need to develop critical thinking about a patient situation and learn to act quickly with the correct intervention,” said College of Nursing Dean Victoria Niederhauser. “Research shows that learning is enhanced by creating real-life scenarios, where students can practice high-stakes situations in a safe learning environment.”

All of it is kept as real as possible thanks to cameras providing live video feeds to a hidden control room, giving teachers the ability to interact and change patient conditions at a moment’s notice while not disrupting the aura of a working medical facility.

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“Students can study and prepare for things all they want, but they never know what it is like until they are faced with the real thing,” said College of Nursing Assistant Professor Tami Wyatt. “That’s what this house does: it puts them in that environment, it throws the unexpected at them—it confronts them with the unknown, and all of our students will be better for it.”

While the upper floors feature medical settings ranging from examination rooms to generalized hospital rooms, the lower level of the HITS Lab will be focused on improving the options for those who might otherwise find themselves heading to assisted living.

“They will have real people staying in the apartment setup so that they can study how they move, how they interact, what their needs really are so that they can live more independent lifestyles,” said John Kobza, head of the College of Engineering’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at UT. “In return, we get instant data from that and can change the software and setup as needed.”

Life-like manikins at the HITS Lab such as this differ from their mannequin counterparts in that they can breath, react to light, emit various fluids and even speak to students through the use of software controlled by faculty in a separate room.

Life-like manikins at the HITS Lab such as this differ from their mannequin counterparts in that they can breath, react to light, emit various fluids and even speak to students through the use of software controlled by faculty in a separate room.

Situated in the former Student Health Center building at the corner of Andy Holt Avenue and Pat Summitt Drive, the HITS Lab will feature some of the latest technology available, thanks in large part to the development of software and learning modules by Wyatt and Matt Bell, of the College of Nursing, and Xueping Li and Yo Indranoi, of the College of Engineering.

“This represents a chance at a great leap forward for both colleges,” said College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. “Pairing up helps speed design and computing for them, and for us it means instant data and real-world testing. That’s a relationship that works, and a model for UT to follow.”

The four collaborated on a project called iCare, a software program that intertwined health records into a teaching database that gave nursing students the chance to interact with software they would see in the real world, helping eliminate a number of on-the-job learning needs before graduation.

“Advancements like that allow us to use simulations and take advantage of distance education to the benefit of students across nursing, medicine, pharmacy, and engineering,” said Li, of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Having a program like that isn’t just about us coming together to make it, it’s about getting students across those fields understanding that working together benefits them, too.”

The iCare program was bought out by Wolters Kluwer Health, rebranded as DocuCare, and now appears in more than 350 universities across the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, highlighting once more the impact that the two colleges working together can have.

“Hospitals, retirement homes, hospice care facilities, they all stand to benefit from what can be learned here,” added Wyatt. “That partnership lies at the core of that. Whether it’s our nurses giving feedback to the engineers, the engineers designing the platforms we use, even students from the art department painting the walls, our ability to work across colleges really speaks well of the university and can only benefit us all.

For more on the College of Nursing, visit the college’s website.

For more on the College of Engineering, click here.

For more on the HITS Lab, click here.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)

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