Treating model patients

July 7, 2000

It may not be as dramatic as ER, but the interactive, computer-simulated accident and emergency department being tested in Glasgow could speed treatment and save lives.

The model has been designed by Jackie Riley, a PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University, to allow managers to study the impact of changes in A&E departments, from staffing to clinical procedure.

"The idea is to build a virtual A&E department using real data and to look at various scenarios," Ms Riley said.

"Saving time is very important and now, for the first time, hospital managers will have a tool to try things out."

The prototype simulation is based on Glasgow Royal Infirmary and it has already prompted changes in practice after it revealed delays in treatment following X-rays.

Ms Riley spent two months studying events in the department, which deals with approximately 250 cases a day.

Patients' movements were recorded from the times of their arrival through the various stages of their treatment.

This data allowed Ms Riley to simulate the random flow of casualties and the influences on the speed at which they were dealt with.

She boiled this down to form the realistic framework for the simulation, which displays a graphic representation of the A&E department's physical layout, with different icons representing staff, patients in various states of distress and the equipment needed to treat them.

The operator of the model can set the rate at which people are admitted as well as staffing levels and resources, such as the number of empty cubicles or the time lab staff take to process samples. The operator can then watch events unfold.

Ms Riley is working on a generic version after studying eight different A&E departments, to create a simulation that could be adapted for any hospital in the country.

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