New virtual simulation prepares health care workers for patient home hazards

New virtual simulation prepares health care workers for patient home hazards

An electrical and fire hazards module in the Home Healthcare Virtual Simulation Training System. Hazards depicted include an unattended lit stove and cigarette burning in an ashtray.

Health care professionals who treat patients in the home often face numerous hazards that do not exist in traditional medical settings, from exposure to lit cigarettes near oxygen tanks to tripping over pets that trail underfoot.

To better prepare nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and home health care aides who face these hazards, researchers from the University of Louisville School of Nursing and The Ohio State University developed the Home Healthcare Virtual Simulation Training System to instruct workers and students on 150 dangerous scenarios that might exist in a patient’s home.

Participants go through different rooms in a home with a range of hazards and distractions, prompting one to assess and respond to the risk. The system explains why a particular situation is dangerous and how to fix it.

Three categories are featured: slip, trip and lift hazards; fire and electrical hazards; and environmental hazards.

It’s engaging, effective and widely usable regardless of a participant’s computer or gaming experience, according to a study of the system’s efficiency published by Games for Health Journal.

Before the program, there had not been a consistent way to train health professionals on home hazards, said Barbara J. Polivka, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., Shirley B. Powers Endowed Chair in Nursing Research and professor at the UofL School of Nursing.

“Home health care workers don’t have the backup systems that exist in hospitals or nursing homes. They are pretty much by themselves in an uncontrolled and unpredictable environment,” said Polivka, who led the study. “People who do this virtual training learn what they can do to protect themselves from hazards, and subsequently protect clients. It works both ways.”

The training was based on information gathered from focus groups and interviews with about 70 home health care workers. They commonly reported encountering patients smoking while using oxygen, the presence of throw rugs and clutter that posed tripping risks and aggressive, unconfined pets.

About 60 percent of all injuries experienced by home health workers occur inside patient homes and result from patient handling tasks, medical devices, equipment and other factors of the home environment.

The program was funded by an $870,000 grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.