Canine Patient Simulators Prepare Veterinary Students for Emergencies


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Canine Patient Simulators Being Designed at Cornell University. Photo courtesy D. Fletcher, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

At Cornell University, a high-tech stuffed robot dog is helping veterinary students practice critical care procedures under nearly real-life conditions. Dr. Dan Fletcher, Assistant Professor of Emergency and Critical Care at Cornell, developed this canine patient simulator using parts from a human patient simulator and a foam core dog mannequin. The simulator allows students to hone various emergency response skills before having to face a real life emergency with someone’s pet dog.

Designing a Canine Patient Simulator for Training Veterinarians Three years ago, Dr. Fletcher began investigating human patient simulators as a model for developing a veterinary patient simulator. Unfortunately, human patient simulators are expensive; a basic model can cost well over $25,000.00. So, Dr. Fletcher, with the help colleagues in IT and Design at Cornell, developed a canine version.

Starting with a canine CPR mannequin, a resin chest plate was added to house speakers to provide heart and lung sounds, as well as a sensor which detects chest compressions. Two separate air bladders were added to simulate chest movement; one is activated when the students place a breathing tube and apply positive pressure ventilation using an ambu bag, the other is computer-activated, so that the breathing rate can be altered.

The computer to which the canine patient simulator is attached can run a variety of scenarios, simulating cardiac arrest or abnormal respiratory and cardiac conditions. The simulator allows students to perform CPR, manually ventilate the dog, or give injections and immediately see the result of their efforts.

Veterinary Students Develop Skills Without Risking Pets’ Lives

Over the past year and a half, more than 150 vet students, interns, and residents have participated in simulations of emergencies, such as airway obstructions and respiratory distress from congestive heart failure. Divided into two groups, half of the students perform the procedures while the other half observes via remote video. After the scenario is run, the two groups meet for a debriefing.

In many cases, when the scenario is first run, the canine patient ‘dies.’ By the time the scenario is run a second time, however, there is generally a dramatic improvement in the students’ response. In addition to having a better idea of what to do, the participants learn how to communicate more effectively amongst themselves to get the job done.  Training on the canine patient simulator is not restricted to veterinary students. Dr. Fletcher has run trainings for the New York State Veterinary Association, and for colleagues in Chile and Spain.

Dr. Fletcher told Decoded Science that, after lecturing on handling a specific emergency, students are able to tell him what they would do in that particular scenario, but faced with the real thing they often freeze. Being able to practice, make mistakes, then go back and do the procedures again firmly embeds the process in their minds. In a soon to be published paper (Fetcher, et al. Development and Evaluation of a High Fidelity Canine Patient Simulator for Veterinary Clinic Training, in prep.), Dr. Fletcher and colleagues provide a qualitative analysis of the value of using canine patient simulators.

speakers imbedded in canine patient simulator

Speakers and sensors bring canine patient simulator to ‘life’. Photo courtesy of D. Fletcher, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

The Future of the Canine Patient Simulator for Training Veterinary Staff

Dr. Fletcher is already hard at work improving the simulator with help from Dr. Ben Kitchen of Alternavitae, LLC, a veterinarian and artist who has been making teaching models for more than 15 years. Dr. Kitchen has developed an improved trachea and esophagus. The new airway design will allow students to experience the possibility of accidentally putting the endotracheal tube into the esophagus rather than the trachea and to perform tracheotomies.

Other planned improvements include creating more animal-specific software, increasing the types of simulations that can be run, and developing articulated joints so that maneuvering the animal is more realistic as well. Studies to quantitatively evaluate the efficacy of this training method are also being designed.

The canine patient simulators are being developed as open source, allowing greater collaboration with both veterinary and IT staff at various universities. Dr. Fletcher hopes that this will help bring the cost down so that more veterinary personnel will have the chance to use this innovative method of learning.

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