Nurses have been taking on more responsibility in recent years — and a good thing too. If the shortage of primary care physicians continues coupled with millions of new patients expected to be added to healthcare systems when provisions of the Affordable Care Act are enacted, they will have to take on even more. At the same time, some nursing schools are struggling to employ enough professors. A health IT startup has developed a cloud-based patient simulator that is being designed to be progressively more challenging as nursing school students’ skills develop.
Gainesville, Florida-based Shadow Health’s education tool seeks to put nursing and medical school students at ease with the routine of seeing patients and boost their comfort levels so they know what to expect. It also is aimed at making future nurses and physicians become more self-aware and better communicators so they develop a stronger rapport with their patients.
Tina Jones, an animated and interactive patient, comes into an exam room after a fall. Users type questions to better assess her health and get a medical history to learn of any underlying conditions they need to be aware of to more effectively treat the patient. She gives oral and written responses. There are 1,500 possible responses to student questions that are matched up with a database of 20,000 questions. Users can view lab results, physical findings and the patient history. They can also submit findings for an instant evaluation and compare them with an expert.
David Massias, the CEO and co-founder of the company, told MedCity News in a phone interview that the virtual patient does not recognize medical jargon, although the software program does. Instead of tachycardia, for example, the user has to say rapid heartbeat or use words a non-healthcare professional would understand.
The company raised $1.2 million in its latest financing round partly to help develop its market penetration — it has a target of 20,000 to 30,000 users. “For the past 12 to 15 months, we have been in sprint mode,” Massias said. “We have expanded from half a dozen to two dozen nursing schools.”
Massias said the company wants to create much more intimacy between students and their digital patients so they are not just memorizing text books. “We want to entrench the [patient interaction] experience so much that it becomes second nature.”
There are an increasing number of patient simulators coming to the market both for healthcare professionals as well as nursing and medical school students in response to a shift in teaching approaches that has accompanied the growth in integrating digital tools. Massias distinguishes the company by taking a longitudinal approach. Shadow Health sees the future of healthcare education as a coaching and tutor model where students use simulators to improve their critical thinking and address areas where they have the greatest need for remediation. Although it currently follows students through a semester of school, the company is expanding the software to accommodate a two-year nursing school or four-year medical school program by getting input from educators.
In addition to medical school and nursing school students, Massias said the company has mapped a course that will include training for physical therapists and pharmacists.
“The market today goes 10-miles wide and 1-inch deep. We want to go 10-miles deep and 1-mile wide.”