Home / Public Relations
Last Updated 8/14/03
Why this Computer Simulation was Created

Preventing Medical Errors:
Using Computer Simulations to Enhance Patient Safety

In a recent report, it was stated that medical errors might cause between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths in the US each year [1]. The specialty of Anesthesiology has always been on the forefront of addressing patient safety issues. Anesthesiology has been the only specialty that has created a foundation specifically dedicated to patient safety issues: the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (www.apsf.org).

A significant number of medical errors are caused by unfamiliarity in operating medical devices that are directly used in patient care. The specialty of anesthesiology requires one to deal with a multitude of medical devices (anesthesia machines, ventilators, drug infusion pumps, etc.), both during the administration of anesthesia in the operating room and the care of patients in the intensive care units. Because of the close daily direct interaction with these medical devices, a great emphasis has always been placed on the safe operation of medical devices within our specialty.

The anesthesia machine and ventilator is a fairly complex medical device. There is therefore a potential for errors during operation, like in any other medical device. In addition, malfunctions may not be transparent when they occur because of the complexity of the machine. It is our firm conviction that promoting a better understanding of the anesthesia machine will ultimately reduce the potential for operator error during normal operation and decrease the time to diagnosis and resolution of machine malfunctions. These desirable goals will undoubtedly translate into improved patient care.

We therefore constructed an interactive, computer simulation of the anesthesia machine and ventilator. It allows users to manipulate and adjust controls similar to a real anesthesia machine and observe the effects of their actions. The simulation provides the user the ability to look inside the anesthesia machine and visualize gas flows such that certain learning objectives can be better conveyed with the computer simulation than on an actual anesthesia machine.

To ensure that financial means is not a barrier to enjoying the benefits of this computer simulation, the Department of Anesthesiology of the University of Florida made the conscious decision to disseminate the educational software free of charge worldwide via the Internet. Initial responses from worldwide users have been very encouraging. The software has been used to teach courses in anesthesia residency, nurse anesthetist and veterinary programs, to date. We are actively seeking corporate sponsors to fund further development of the Virtual Anesthesia Machine web site as a continued service to the worldwide anesthesia community.

1. Kohn LT, Corrigan JM, Donaldson, MS, eds. To Err is Human: Building a Safe Health System. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.