UT Arlington, UT Dallas and Baylor Health Care System get nearly $1 million to increase patient safety

ARLINGTON - The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has awarded nearly $1 million to researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington's College of Nursing, Baylor Health Care System and The University of Texas at Dallas to study how physicians and nurses can improve their communication skills by participating in engaging, video game-like simulations.

The project is a collaboration among the three organizations aimed at increasing patient safety by providing a safe, virtual environment for physicians and nurses to learn to communicate effectively and efficiently through role-playing. Health care providers will experience real-world situations and react in the virtual setting, similar to advanced computer games. They can then build more effective interpersonal communication skills by receiving feedback and putting what they’ve learned into practice.

"Technologies like the high-fidelity manikins at UT Arlington’s Smart Hospital™ have made it possible for students to acquire and test their skills in a realistic environment where it is safe to make a mistake and learn from it," said Beth Mancini, associate dean of UT Arlington’s College of Nursing and principal investigator for the study. "The development of serious gaming systems takes that capability to a new level and has the potential to transform health care training."

Numerous studies have shown that communication problems in health care sometimes leads to serious, even deadly, medical mistakes, researchers said.  The Joint Commission, the national organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations, has identified communication among caregivers as a key National Patient Safety Goal. 

"Being able to effectively communicate things like a concerning change in a patient’s condition to those who need to know is the cornerstone of safe care," said Dr. Don Kennerly, chief patient safety officer for Baylor.  "Poor communication can lead to misunderstanding that can cause medication errors or a missed opportunity when a patient’s condition deteriorates."

The $969,604 award is a three-year grant. Mancini, who was recently elected president of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, will coordinate the project. She will provide health care expertise along with Yan Xiao, director of Patient Safety Research at Baylor and a frequently published researcher in the areas of patient safety and health care communication.

Marjorie Zielke, assistant professor of arts and technology and associate director of research for the Institute for Interactive Arts and Engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas, will construct the prototype game. A pioneer in serious gaming, Zielke has already completed award-winning gaming projects to provide cultural training for U.S. soldiers serving in the Middle East and to educate nurses caring for pediatric respiratory patients.

"The flexibility of serious games to help professionals learn in an engaging environment under their own timeframe makes this format especially useful to health care organizations," Zielke said. "The subject of effective communications practices among professionals is perfectly suited for the type of behaviorally focused games we are interested in at UT Dallas. We will be able to apply much of our research on virtual humans and synthetic societies to this initiative."

Initially, the new game will focus on surgeons and nurses caring for post-operative patients. The researchers plan to recruit 120 nurses and 25 physicians on the Baylor medical staff to take part.

"This kind of gaming can really be engaging and allows learners to sharpen their skills through repetition. With this project, Baylor’s caregivers will explore gaming technology’s mind boggling potential to improve patient safety," Xiao said.

Mancini, Xiao and Zielke hope to collaborate in the future on other projects that explore how interactive, life-like virtual environments can be used to improve health care delivery.

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. The UT Arlington College of Nursing is one of the country’s six largest nursing schools with an enrollment of 6,330 and is home to the nation’s first Smart Hospital™, a full-scale simulated hospital for education and research. For more information, visit www.uta.edu.

Baylor Health Care System is a not-for-profit, faith-based supporting organization providing services to a network of acute care hospitals and related health care entities that provide patient care, medical education, research and community service. Baylor recorded more than 2.6 million patient encounters, $3.8 billion in total operating revenue, $4.4 billion in total assets and $513.5 million in community benefit in fiscal year 2010.  Baylor’s network of more than 260 access points includes 26 owned/operated/ ventured/affiliated hospitals, 23 joint ventured ambulatory surgical centers, 50 satellite outpatient locations, four senior centers and 156 HealthTexas physician clinics.

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor, enrolls more than 17,000 students.  The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores.  The University offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs.  For additional information about UT Dallas, please visit the University’s website at www.utdallas.edu.


Media contact: Traci Peterson, tpeterso@uta.edu, 817-272-9208