New birthing simulation tech helps nurses, doctors prep for care

Avbirth simulator gives students training for the real deal
Posted at 3:54 PM, Apr 25, 2022

Inside the simulation room at the University of Delaware, nursing students are getting firsthand experience with delivering a baby.

“If something happens to your baby, it is devastating,” said Sarah Beebe, the Simulation Lab Program Manager at BayHealth Medical Center.

The simulation is meant to help train nurses and doctors in any scenario they might run into when delivering a baby.

“By using simulators and actors, we can practice some pretty difficult hand skills but in a safe place,” Beebe said.

The technology expands beyond mannequin simulators.

“This takes all the technology of a mannequin and all the important pieces of working with a live human, and puts them together,” Beebe said. “Different languages, different cultural pieces, you're working with different races and ages. That's something you just can't get from a mannequin.”

“The reason that simulations are so important is that you really need to have the students have hands-on experience and you also need to be intentional about what experiences the students will have as a part of their training,” said Kathleen Matt, who is the dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware.

Here’s how it works: A baby is loaded into a womb-like device and strapped to a live actor. A scenario is chosen, using a tablet, ranging from a normal birth to a range of complications. The live actor wears a haptic bracelet to receive cues.

“When the simulator is having a contraction, she gets a buzz on her wrist that lets her know, I need to act as if I have a contraction right now,” Beebe said.

“That's really what these wearable simulators do is allow that true, authentic replication of that clinical experience in multiple settings,” said Amy Cowperthwait, the CEO of Avkin. The company makes the Avbirth simulator, as well as other healthcare-related simulators like an IV simulator and a chest tube care simulator.

“The idea was, let's actually be able to have live people for invasive procedures,” she explained.

Each year, about 700 people die during pregnancy or in the year after, according to stats by the Centers for Disease Control. Two in three deaths are preventable, the CDC says. Another 50,000 women have unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery with health consequences.

“Many of these deaths could be preventable, so if we can practice as providers and clinicians in a safe, simulated environment, we can potentially recognize risk factors and recognize warning signs and practice those emergency situations over and over again,” Beebe said.

“As a whole, the profession is very concerned about the maternal mortality rate,” Dr. Meggan Zsemlye, an OB-GYN clinical professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, said. “We are extremely conscious of things that happen that we could have any sort of effect on. So, I think the combination of improving data that we get so that we can see what is happening as far as maternal mortality rates is very important. And then continuing with advances in simulation.”

For nursing students like Makaliah Abrams, this can make all the difference.

“It exposes you firsthand without embarrassing yourself in front of a real person,” Abrams said.

Along with confidence, it helps with learning communication.

“The communication with the couple also not being able to speak English with the mom, I think is very helpful because you run into many diverse people,” she said. “Communication is everything, especially in healthcare. Not to be dramatic, but kind of be dramatic. It’s life or death because somebody's life is on the line and things can happen very quickly.”

As technology becomes more integrated into the healthcare simulation space, Cowperthwait hopes to see this used in more training scenarios.

“That’s really what these wearable simulators do is allow that true, authentic replication of that clinical experience in multiple settings,” she said.