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Program takes students inside virtual hospitals

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ECPI University's eHospital program takes health care students inside virtual medical environments, allowing them to practice hands-on skills while learning remotely during the pandemic. (Image/Provided)

With hands-on learning becoming a challenge in 2020, ECPI University has developed a proprietary software program that allows students in health care fields to get as close to being in a medical environment as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, eHospital, includes six virtual environments: triage, patient room, medical laboratory, education center, operating room and emergency room. In each, students perform basic tasks and learn more advanced skills that will help them hit the ground running when they enter the workforce.

“Health care is really all about hands-on,” said Indira Dodig, a biology professor at ECPI’s Columbia campus. “In this time of COVID and social distancing, anything that helps give them that experience, that hands-on, that is really a blessing for us.”

In triage and patient rooms, users check height and weight and measure respiratory function, as well as operate electrocardiogram equipment and calculate dosages of intravenous medications. In the operating room, students identify and categorize medical instruments and gain an understanding of surgical procedures.

The education center includes 12 fully interactive body systems that allow for virtual tagging and dissection as well as more than 50 different 3D pathology models. There’s even a game: Bones in the Box, in which students test their knowledge of the skeletal system.

“The skeletal system is among the first systems that we teach,” Dodig said. “When you have brand-new students who are not familiar with that, with the human body in general, it is really for helpful for them — OK, here is a bone flying around. You can rotate it, enlarge, minimize, move to the corner, turn it upside down.”

The information technology staff at ECPI, which also has locations in Greenville and Charleston, rolled out eHospital soon after the school moved to virtual learning in March. Initially trepidatious about navigating the new technology, Dodig found the program easy to use and said it helped keep her anatomy and physiology students engaged and focused.

“Being remote, you had to reduce hands-on (experience) very much, so having an opportunity to give them something to engage them, to give them experience — I’m a strong believer that students, especially students in health care, from day one should have that experience,” she said. “Practice communicating with people, build up your empathy, build that part of health care that makes them so special and so different from any other profession.”

The program also allows students to learn at their own pace, Dodig said, and practice a specific skill as much as necessary.  

“There are so many practices in these clinical skills that our students have trained at school and it is expected that they know before they go to their clinicals,” she said. “When you are learning new skills, students can lack confidence that they can do this or (worry) they are falling behind the others. … What I appreciate very much about eHospital is giving students the opportunity to practice hands-on at their own pace and in the privacy of their own home.”

Dodig said her students’ interest — and their grades — have noticeably improved with the program.

“It is a wonderful tool not only to test my students but to engage my students, to give them something that is not just a plain classroom lecture — I’m talking, you’re listening,” she said. “Here we are doing stuff. … It is engaging but educational at the same time. Through fun, you can sometimes learn much more than opening the book and trying to study.”

The program also includes a fully functional 3D helicopter and ambulance, and additional advanced clinical models and simulations are being added.

Students can access eHospital on campus or from home with their log-in information, and the program is also available to ECPI graduates working in the health care field who may want a quick refresher, Dodig said.

“Especially when they just start in these challenging times, no matter how well you are prepared, there is always a little dose of anxiety and do I know everything?” she said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects that health care employment is expected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. With the pandemic exacerbating that demand in fields such as respiratory therapy, Dodig believes eHospital’s benefits will last long after COVID-19.

“It’s so beneficial, not only for students. It’s beneficial for us instructors. It’s beneficial for health care workers that are already working, and at the end, it benefits patients, because you have well-prepared and skilled health care providers,” she said. “That’s the most important thing. In these times of big challenges, God knows we need health care workers as prepared as they can possibly be.”

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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