Students build chest cavity, arm simulator

Roberts says students learned medicinal process of IV insertion



Mechanical engineering senior Zac Cannon adjusts the vein tubes on the simulated IV arm. The purpose of the arm is to help healthcare providers practice the technical aspects of finding the vein, while simultaneously practicing social skills.

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

Pullman Regional Hospital (PRH) will continue its partnership with WSU’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering program to improve their prototypes of wearable arm and chest simulators.

Becky Highfill, PRH Center for Learning and Innovation director, said the simulation labs will use the new equipment. The arm simulator will be used by clinicians and is designed for IV insertion.

Highfill said the physicians will use the chest cavity simulator to practice placing chest tubes.

“It’s important for our clinical staff to keep up on those skills so that when we do have those cases, they’re prepared and able to complete the task,” she said.

PRH Education Coordinator Amber Roberts said she had previously attended a conference in Spokane that featured wearable simulation equipment. The equipment shown at the conference cost $10,000 to $15,000.

“[We wanted to] have them develop something that would pertain to us and not be as expensive,” Roberts said. “It will give [the students] a fun project to do.”

She said the arm simulator  was developed by students. It has veins to allow blood flow when connected to a machine. The machine would cause pulsations along with what Roberts called a flashback.

Roberts said a flashback is a human response that occurs during IV insertion.

“You put the needle in, and a flash of blood comes back, which is key to knowing that you’re in the vein,” she said. “That’s when you stop threading the needle.”

Roberts said the students worked to ensure the synthetic arm appeared, felt and reacted as realistic as possible. This included constructing the prototype with material similar to the texture of skin.

She said the arm simulator lacks nerve endings, so the person wearing the simulator would not feel any pain during its use.

Roberts said she guided the students through the medicinal process of IV insertion. Two students were brought into PRH’s same-day services department to watch how IVs are placed and removed.

“We talked about what the veins looked like under the skin, how they differ from patient to patient, how they move around and where the common spots to start IVs are,” Roberts said. “If you don’t understand that, then you won’t be able to emulate the realism.”

She said the students were at the hospital for nearly five hours.

Roberts said she and Highfill made about six trips to the engineering department to check on the progress of the simulators.

The prototypes were created in fall 2018 by two groups of engineering students, each group working on one simulator. Roberts said the groups piloted the projects.

“It lets clinical folks practice on something that is synthetic versus practicing on something that is a human being,” she said.

A new group of students began refining the prototypes in spring 2019.

“When we started this, I anticipated that this would take a few semesters of perfecting,” Roberts said. “I never thought in a million years the first group was going to produce such finished products.”