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Programming for Infant Care

Video game producer works with hospital to develop critical infant care training simulator.

The small, thin baby lies in the incubator as he slowly sucks on a pacifier, the sounds of a hospital room buzzing audibly in the background as a monitor beeps steadily with the baby’s heart rate.

Suddenly a twitch, and the infant stops moving. A light goes off and a loud beeping begins.

The baby has stopped breathing.

A pair of hands comes into the incubator and slowly turn over the non-moving child, but still nothing happens.

"See, right there we just tried to reposition the baby, and sometimes that’s enough to start him breathing again," said Jerrod Ullah, a registered nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital, in a calm voice as the baby continues showing no sign of breathing. "Obviously, that didn’t work, so now we’re going to have to try a few different measures."

Ullah leans back and taps buttons on the digital keyboard that appears on the screen in front of him and a pair of simulated nurse hands appear on the computer screen to push air into the virtual baby’s lungs.

A few seconds pass. The beeping returns to normal, as does the color of the video game infant’s skin, which had begun to fade to a purplish-blue.

"So now the baby’s returned to normal, its heart rate is back up and we’ve successfully navigated through this emergency," Ullah said, finishing his sentence just as another light goes off on the upper corner of the screen.

"Now we need to go check on that."

CRITICAL DECISION Simulation is the name that has been given to the neo-natal intensive care training simulator that has been the pet project of a core of volunteer health professionals and local video game producers for the last year.

Designed to give new nurses to neo-natal intensive care unit’s a way to gain experience in a no-risk environment, the project, which is produced by Springfield-based Rival Interactive, could affect how hospital training is done in the future, according to Rival Interactive president Jim Omer.

"There’s a large industry out there for gaming and gaming technology to be used in training programs," said Omer, who’s company has produced combat technique simulators for United States Department of Defense. "One of the things that we wanted to do is to see if we could make a simulator with a baby looks as real as one that we could make with a soldier or a jet."

With ever-increasing modern technology, especially when it comes to video games, opportunities abound, Omer said.

"The realism of gaming in general these days is almost scary … the differences between reality and technology are becoming smaller and smaller by the day," he said. "To be able to take an opportunity like that and apply it to something like neo-natal care … it’s been a major passion project of ours."

The result was the Critical Decision Simulation program, which is operated through a touch-screen and is designed to be as easily understood and as real-life relevant as possible.

WHILE THE SIMULATOR is only in prototype form at the moment, a final version would be available within 10 months if proper funding through donation or investment is found, Omer said. He puts the final product price tag to be between $1.5 and $2 million.

Upon completion, Omer estimated that the simulator would feature more than 50 different possible scenarios that could occur in a neo-natal intensive care unit. It would also feature an auto-update through the use of the Internet to keep it in tune with the speed of technology and the evolution of care methods, he added.

So far, funding has not come easy. The progress of the simulator has been mostly due to funds raised through donations and a lot of volunteer time from both Inova nurses and Rival Interactive producers.

"No matter how excited we are about this, we still need to have the money to make this happen," Omer said. "But with the momentum that we have now, we’re sure that we‘ll have something out."

Once complete, the Critical Decision Simulator can serve the roughly 1,200 babies who receive neo-natal care each year at Inova Fairfax Hospital, as well as neo-natal care units throughout the United States, Ullah said.

"This is a technology that supports a desperately-needed goal, and that is in bringing our new staff members and training them to handle a variety of situations," he said. "If something like this can be available for hundreds of units across the nation, it would work to serve literally hundreds of thousands of children every year."

Ullah said that using technology to the advantage of health training is part of the natural evolution of medical technology as a whole.

"The idea is to elevate the overall skills and improve the total level of care that the patients receive," he said. "In a way, something like this is the first of its kind, but it’s definitely not the first time that an industry has tried to improve itself through technology."

"All we’re doing is applying an existing technology and creating something that fills a very important need," Omer said.