Training EMS workers

Training EMS workers is not something you want to leave up to the imagination, yet that is something many training methods do.

“I’ve been teaching EMS for 20-plus years and when we provide a scenario to the trainee, a lot of times we have a mannequin on the floor and we have to let them use their imagination by saying [pretend] the patient is blue and is having difficulty breathing or is unconscious,” says Karl Kellenberger, a Rescue Lieutenant and Fire Academy Instructor with the City of Coral Springs, FL.

Telling someone a mannequin has chest pain and actually seeing it are two different things.

“The assessment and treatment of a mannequin goes back to the make-believe aspect of you’ve got to visualize everything that we said and sometimes you verbalize things, and it doesn’t provide realism. There’s not too much stress involved in it.”

The need for imagination changed when Kellenberger’s department got a training package with VRpatients after seeing it at a conference and scheduling a demo.

Using either VR headsets or a computer screen, VRpatients immerses EMS students and practitioners into clinical case scenarios where they can interview, assess, diagnose, and treat patients in real-time.

“When you put on the VR headset if it’s something you’re supposed to see, you see. It provides that realism and it makes people think. It’s not just going through the motions,” he explains. “With the VRpatients, it actually gives them the visualization that they need. It paints the picture and they say oh my, this patient is actually having difficulty breathing, it’s legit, I can see it firsthand.”

The virtual scenario changes based on how a user responds. The patient’s skin color and other symptoms will adjust.

“They can see the changes firsthand. The vital signs will change as you do something or not do something. It’s extremely important for them to see that,” Kellenberger says.

Most mannequins don’t do those things.

“It’s about realism to the training. A lot of times, the only time they see something like this is when they actually get out on to the streets and do their rides with the fire department or spend time in a hospital,” Kellengerger explains. “ [VRpatients] takes the knowledge you’ve learned in class and what you’ve learned in a lab and applies it firsthand to a patient that is as real as it gets.”

In a profession like EMS, being able to know if someone can translate book learning to actually doing the job is very important. Kellenberger uses the VR system so he can quickly see the basic skills of new hires.

“Anybody can put an IV tube in a mannequin or start one in an IV arm, but do they know what they have and do they know how to treat it?” he asks. The VRpatients system allowed Coral Springs to conduct three different new hire sessions and test true knowledge and abilities.

With a tool like VRpatients, training leaders can create cases that immerse EMS students and practitioners into clinical scenarios that allow students to see and feel what is happening in real time.

“If [the training] doesn’t invoke some kind of emotion, they’re not going to buy into it and they’ll say, ‘oh, it’s just another program,’” Kellenberger explains. “When they can actually attach emotions to it, it actually weighs more on them and provides more buy-in for them.”

When students learn, they have a script they follow about how to assess and help a patient. When put into practice, that script can vary, which sometimes throws students off.

“You can read a book a hundred times, but knowledge is only power after application,” Kellenberger says. “You’ve got to be able to apply something somewhere and the VR device allows [students] to actually practice and apply those skills that they were taught.”

Since Coral Springs purchased the VRpatients system, more than 1,500 people have used it for training, and all have sung its praises.

“The responses we get are, ‘why didn’t we do this sooner?’ and ‘can we do it again?’” Kellenberger says. “The students are excited to see it. It provides an avenue that hasn’t been introduced before and they’re always looking for something new and different that can change the way they learn and make learning more enjoyable.”

Using the basic scenarios and diverse library of realistic avatars and frequently encountered environments that are part of the VRpatients environment, instructors can use the intuitive case authoring tool to customize situations and patients based on what they see in their community and how they want to evaluate their students.

Kellenberger says it didn’t take him or his team long to figure out the system and learn how to change the scenarios.

“Everything is pretty self-explanatory and easy to follow. If I’m teaching a cardiology class, I know I will have to create a couple of patients that have cardiac-type issues like an arrythmia or chest pain. Within 15 minutes, the scenario is done,” he says. After a few follow-up questions from the system, it’s ready to go.

For those who are not tech savvy at all, have no fear. There’s a responsive tech support.

“What we have found with VRpatients is that any time we have had a question or suggestion, by the next roll out, that question or suggestion was actually built into the program to prevent anybody else from having that same question or concern,” Kellenberger says.

Students see the benefits of this type of training.

“It’s not a video game. It’s better than a video game because it’s true to what we do,” Kellenberger explains. “Patient status can change just like it does in the VR and patient status will improve or not and the patient will live or die. It’s vividly accurate. We control the responses based on what [the students] do or don’t do and based on the way we develop the scenario. The responses are as if it was a real patient. Just nobody dies in real life with this one.”

Building skills and confidence is the goal of any training.

“You have to be able to do your job. If you’re not confident by the time you leave school, if you get a job and are in charge of patient care, without confidence, that patient won’t trust you and people you work with will not trust you. [VRpatients] will help bridge that gap and actually take it to another level,” Kellenberger says. “You’d rather practice on something like this on VR where you have the same type of situations without the life or death consequences. Although decisions are the same, you can practice and perfect before you go out into the real world.”

Interested in seeing how VRpatients can help you with qualifying new hires or training existing staff on new protocols? 
Sign up for a free demo today.