The Bath Fire and Rescue Department is one of four state emergency medical services departments to participate in a pilot virtual reality training program to hone first aid skills in the recognition and treatment of serious illnesses. in pediatric patients.
During training, first aid workers wear virtual reality glasses that lead them through scenarios in which a child is in difficulty. The job of the medical professional is to assess the patient’s symptoms and determine what is happening, observing what lies ahead and selecting the appropriate treatment. The state of the virtual child, such as his coloration or respiratory rate, could change depending on the paramedic’s assessment.
Bath Fire and Rescue chief Lawrence Renaud said the program is a step above face-to-face training, as virtual children can mimic the symptoms of various health problems and respond to treatment while children live or the mannequins couldn’t.
“This virtual reality simulates the child’s appearance and allows us to examine and evaluate them in ways we could never,” Renaud said. “It is difficult to train in real pediatrics, as there are not many parents who are willing to volunteer for their children so that we can train. I think this will be the future and we are very excited to be part of this process. “
Renaud said it also allows paramedics to train themselves in realistic situations instead of sitting in a classroom or watching a video.
“Children cry, that’s their universal language, and paramedics need to stay calm in these high-tension situations,” Renaud said. “We do not want to turn the crisis of another into our crisis. We want to improve any situation we get into. “
York Hospital, Rockland Fire and Emergency Medical Services and Wells Emergency Medical Services are also involved in the pilot training program, offered by Maine Emergency Medical Services, a division of the Department of Public Safety. of Maine.
Maine EMS developed the program through federal funding, meaning it is free for departments that choose to participate. Maine is also the first state in the country to deploy emergency medical services through virtual reality, according to Maine EMS Director Sam Hurley.
Training simulations focus on pediatric patients because child emergency calls are very infrequent, meaning first aid can stop being practiced as you respond when you count.
Renaud estimated that the 12 paramedics in the department and the 12 advanced medical officers in the emergency service responded to some 2,500 calls by 2020, but fewer than five children involved.
Statewide, about 5 percent of emergency calls are for pediatric patients, meaning they are considered “low-frequency and high-risk,” Hurley said.
“Across the state, approximately 10% of services did not see any pediatric patients last year,” said Marc Minkler, director of the Maine EMS for Children program. “This leaves a whole year when a doctor did not evaluate a child. We want people to stay fresh so they are ready to respond when a child needs help. No parent wants to hear “This is the first child I’ve dealt with in a while.” Parents want someone who is ready to offer the best care.
When Bath’s fire and rescue department receives pediatric calls, Renaud said they are usually an allergic reaction to a bee sting or that a child has ingested chemicals or prescription drugs by mistake.
Statewide, Minkler said the most common calls to 911 for children come from respiratory distress, seizures, and “psychiatric calls,” which can range from anxiety to attempted suicide.
Renaud said virtual training works especially well for small staff at Bath, a high-volume department, because it gives them flexibility to train when they can, answer calls when needed, and resume training later.
Emergency medical technicians and Bath paramedics will be evaluated quarterly by Maine EMS to assess whether virtual reality training improves a clinician’s ability to identify and manage pediatric patients with critical illnesses, Hurley said.
Although the training program now only simulates pediatric patients, Hurley said the department expects to offer an adult version of the program in the next three months.
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