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ISU nursing students to get hands-on experience with telemedicine

OSF HealthCare
Mennonite College of Nursing associate dean of academics Susie Watkins said STARTED — short for Simulation to Address Rural Telehealth Education Development — will help address a gap in nursing education related to telehealth and remote settings.

A new simulation experience for students at Illinois State University's Mennonite College of Nursing will fill a current gap in nursing education while preparing future healthcare providers for practice in diverse settings.

Thanks to funding from an ongoing partnership between ISU and Peoria-based OSF HealthCare, nursing students this semester will get hands-on experience with telehealth platforms used in remote healthcare during STARTED — what's short for Simulation to Address Rural Telehealth Education Development.

Susie Watkins
OSF HealthCare
Mennonite College of Nursing associate dean of academics Susie Watkins said the STARTED program will help address a gap in nursing education realted to telehealth and remote settings.

"One of our goals in nursing education is to teach students how to practice in relevant healthcare systems. Currently, we lack education in telehealth technologies," said Susie Watkins, associate dean of academics at Mennonite College of Nursing. "This project is going to help us introduce our students to this type of technology and have them do hands-on practice with standardized participants that make it more like real life."

Two dozen graduate students in the family nurse practitioner program will undergo the simulation in February; 120 undergraduate nursing students will take their turn in April. Watkins said the focus of the simulations would differ slightly between graduates and undergraduates, but the underlying goal remains the same.

"What we are intending to do with our students is really teach them about how ... these technologies can be delivered and used in remote areas to connect clients needing health care with providers who can receive assessment data and make diagnostic and further treatment decisions for the patient without physically being there," Watkins said.

Telehealth became ubiquitous during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its usefulness goes beyond viral mitigation. Watkins said telehealth can be crucial to providing health care in rural settings where there may be a lack of providers. It could also make the difference between what ends up being a visit to the emergency room and what doesn't.

"One of our goals is to keep clients out of the emergency departments if that is not the level of care that they need. So, an ear infection, typically, is not an emergent situation and really should be addressed in a clinic and not the emergency room," Watkins said. "A site that may not have a provider that day could be operating (via telehealth) at a different site and receive these types of visits."

Advances in telehealth technology mean providers can take and receive camera footage of the inside of a person's ear or throat and hear audio of a heart beat, or breathing in the lungs. The simulations will put that technology in the hands of nursing students as they practice taking assessments and collecting data from a living "patient."

Jump Simulation, a Peoria research group tied to OSF and the University of Illinois College of Medicine, will provide what are essentially trained actors for the simulations.

OSF HealthCare
Anne Williamsen-Dunlap is the director of educational development for Jump Simulation, research group in Peoria that's tied to OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Jump Simulation will provide trained actors — also called standardized participants — for the simulations at ISU's Mennonite College of Nursing.

Anne Williamsen-Dunlap, the group's director of educational development, said the patients are community members who are trained to act in a "standardized" way during the simulations.

"It's imperative that learners receive a similar type of experience — or to use the word again, a standardized experience — so that everyone gets to do the same things with the technology and have the same types of interactions with the participants who are portraying a patient," Williamsen-Dunlap said. "It's all about taking the chance out of clinical education."

Once the simulations are complete, the "standardized participants" will fill out predesigned rubrics on how a nursing student performed. They'll also give verbal feedback on how they felt to the students right after the scenario ends.

"Did they feel confident in the learners ability to manage the technology? Did they feel comfortable in their presence? Did they feel comfortable in the interaction that they may have been having with the provider? The provider, while not there, may have been brought into this visit remotely and it will be the nurse's role to facilitate that interaction," Williamsen-Dunlap said. "All of that will help create a a remote visit that addresses the patient's needs where they are."

While the goal to prepare future health care providers with a broad range of experiences remains, Watkins and Williamsen-Dunlap said there's also a hope that this type of educational programming can be shared with other institutions in the future.

"This sort of education, at this point in time, is fairly rare — in undergraduate programs, at least," Williamsen-Dunlap said. "The ability to help other colleges come online and provide this education will be a really significant outcome of this work."

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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