Collaborative Team Designs Virtual Health Care Simulation App

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In spring semester 2021, students in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing will get firsthand experience testing out a new virtual health care app designed by a team of faculty and students from across campus.

Lisa Merritt, clinical assistant professor of nursing, and her collaborative team at UT—Xueping Li, professor of industrial and systems engineering in the Tickle College of Engineering; Cary Staples, professor of design in the College of Architecture and Design; and Paul Hauptman, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Medicine—designed a mobile application to simulate a virtual health care encounter.

This multiplatform V-Visit Sim app is an educational app developed for health care educators that replicates a virtual visit between a provider and a patient.

Virtual visits, which are on the rise due to COVID-19, are encounters that occur between a patient and a health care provider without being in the same room. Patients receive care for health problems from home through video, phone, text messaging, or video chat.

“The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that health care providers explore alternatives to face-to-face visits in an effort to reduce unnecessary visits and prevent transmission of COVID-19,” said Merritt. “Virtual visits can advance those efforts and have great potential to enhance patient experience, improve health outcomes, and control health care cost.”

“Simulation is used in health care education to give learners the opportunity to practice skills without putting patients at risk,” Merritt said. “The pandemic has accelerated the need for virtual visits, and the development of this virtual simulation app provides participants a simulated experience in performing a virtual visit.”

The app can be used on a computer, tablet, or smartphone and was developed for nurse practitioner students, medical students, physician assistant students, and others working to become advanced practice providers.

“Research shows that students have positive perceptions toward mobile learning and feel that using their mobile device for education enhances their learning,” Merritt continued. “It makes learning more portable and accessible.”

The project is funded by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. Merritt and her team used some of the funds to work with students in UT’s School of Design to improve the readability and usability of the app.

“These students have done a fabulous job making the app more attractive to the eye and user-friendly,” Merritt stated. “This collaboration has provided the opportunity for students to work with faculty from other colleges and has enhanced their learning experience.”

Allie Torres-Lopez, a junior in the College of Architecture and Design, worked as a student designer on the app.
Currently in its beta version, the V-Visit Sim app provides learners with the opportunity to improve clinical reasoning skills through exposure to 35 clinical scenarios in an asynchronous online environment.

“When the opportunity first arose, the project was to create video tutorials for this platform. However, this project developed more than we had ever thought possible in such a short amount of time,” Torres-Lopez said. “I truly believe that the V-Visit Sim App will become a helpful resource for the future of health care education.”

Merritt will be using the new application in the College of Nursing during spring semester to provide experience with virtual visits for family, pediatric, and mental health nurse practitioner students.

“The goal is for learners to collect appropriate information from the history and virtual physical exam via chat messages, images, and video and develop a correct diagnosis and management plan,” Merritt said.