Just a year ago, the words “social distancing” and “mask up“ weren’t even part of our vocabulary.
Since COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic in March of 2020, it has changed our daily lives and exposed many limitations in the ways we had always done things. Not only were providers forced to challenge their old methodologies, they had to make significant changes quickly, like it or not.
Christina Keatley, EMS Education Consultant at VRpatients, talks about five ways COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in EMS training.
Realistic online and virtual reality tools like VRpatients can help fulfill many of these training needs. Here are five ways COVID-19 has exposed EMS training weaknesses:
- The Need for Remote Ways of Training
Traditional EMS training usually happened with a group of students in a room with an instructor and usually a high-fidelity advanced life support manikin. This type of gathering just isn’t possible with COVID-19 restrictions.
“COVID-19 exposed the importance of having more remote ways to effectively train students. When they said you can’t come to class and you’re only used to doing face-to-face simulation or scenarios or even just a simple lecture, you can’t do that now,” Keatley says.
Some training sites were ready with remote ways to do lectures, but not other types of training.
“When it comes to paramedic skills and performing assessments, it limits you because they didn’t really have a plan in place to meet national accreditation standards remotely”
It’s not possible for every student or EMS provider to have a manikin to practice on, but it is possible to use virtual reality training tools like VRpatients which puts people into real life situations without the real life consequences.
- Budget Constraints for Education
Very early on in the pandemic, many departments realized they didn’t have the PPE or other items they needed to properly protect themselves from the coronavirus.
“Budgets were either cut or severely limited or they took funds that are related to education and used those funds elsewhere for something related to the pandemic,” Keatley explains.
She says educational institutions have been better position to deal with the budget constraints than individual EMS departments with education requirements, but they are also still struggling to find funding.
“I feel like there’s some fear in spending money right now.” Spending a large part of a department’s budget on education while the pandemic is still raging is tricky.
The lack of training could lead to other financial problems for departments.
“People who have stopped training for the past year are starting to get rusty. Then you’re opening up that door for liability because how are you training them?”
- Low Tech Training Is Not Immersive
Keatley says many departments are relying on low-tech ways to train.
“Very low tech means you’re not getting high fidelity. High fidelity is where you’re going to get your most realistic and immersive training.”
She says telling someone what they “may see” in an EMS scenario is not the same as them experiencing it.
“Training needs to be like what you’re going to be encountering in the field, not something that is just sitting in a room with a verbal scenario.”
Just telling a trainee they’re responding to a 65-year-old female experiencing chest pain doesn’t cut it. It’s important that the trainee fully comprehends all aspects of the scenario, applies their knowledge and uses critical thinking skills to figure out how to appropriately care for the patient.
Often, that buy-in just doesn’t happen from a verbal scenario. They need to see, feel, and react.
Investing in a high-fidelity tool like VRpatients may cost you money in the short term, but there are many benefits for the people who need training.
“They’re not going to lose their skillset. You’re still going to be able to effectively train quality paramedics by using the VRpatients product.”
Keatley explains with both VR headset and web-based versions of VRpatients, agencies or educators can assign scenarios for students to complete wherever they are.
“That is one of the big advantages of our product.”
- Continuing Education is Necessary But Limited
Once someone is licensed and working in the field, they need to continue their training both to keep skills sharp and to maintain their certifications. COVID-19 has made that very difficult.
For people working in the EMS field, Keatley says it’s OK to assume they know the basics like setting up and IV and intubating a patient, but those skills still require continued training.
“It’s a matter of putting everything together. There are some products out there that look at individual skills, whereas VRpatients looks at the entire patient like you would when you’re dispatched to a location. You have to go through all the steps of putting on your PPE, doing a patient assessment, verifying your airway, breathing, circulation, and putting in oxygen as necessary. It’s not just completing individual pieces of a puzzle. You’re putting all of the pieces together.”
COVID has limited traditional training opportunities like classes and conferences.
“With the pandemic, if you were training face-to-face, it is now even more difficult which is where something like a virtual solution can come in.”
- Protocols and Procedures Are Constantly Changing
As the pandemic has gone on, the information we know about the virus and treating it has changed. That has resulted in constantly changing protocols.
“We can use VRpatients to test new protocols, critical thinking skills, and what PPE to use. There have been a lot of new steps and new protocols for how a provider should operate. Some changes just seemed to come out of nowhere as the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidance to EMS systems on best practice. You can use a product like VRpatients to reinforce your protocol training,” Keatley says.
She explains it isn’t enough to circulate a memo or email outlining changes. People need to practice. With COVID-19, procedures have evolved concerning use of PPE, performing COVID screenings, aerosolized interventions, etc.
“With VRpatients, it’s not just saying, we found out this new way to do this thing or how to treat these patients, and here’s a piece of paper, study it and it goes into effect in two weeks.”
VRpatients allows departments to create customized cases introducing the new protocols to allow their people to practice in a realistic environment.
“It can be more a matter of this is the protocol, these are the steps you’re going to be taking, and this is the why you should be doing this. Now we are going to practice it using something like a simulation in VRpatients.”
Departments are Adapting
Overall, Keatley says departments want to do the right thing.
“Administrators that I encounter, most of them say it’s a matter of not stopping training altogether but rather figuring out how to get around this and come up with a solution where we can all be safe and not expose each other.”
As an industry leader navigating the remote learning world, the people at VRpatients know you are always looking to optimize your educational toolset. VRpatients increases knowledge retention and builds stress inoculation, all for a fraction of the price of traditional sim training.
Click here to schedule a demo to learn more about how VRpatients can help you get the most out of your precious training dollars.