2018 2019

August 20, 2019

Travis McCann is always busy. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) student is finishing up his first year in the program while working full-time as a floor nurse at Yale Health. He’s also a teaching assistant in MSN’s simulation department and is teaching himself to code. On top of that, he’s the father of a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.

You wouldn’t think that adding one more thing to his schedule would actually save him time, but it was a desire to use innovation and technology to simplify his life that led McCann to the Blended Reality project at Yale’s Center for Creative Arts and Media (CCAM). 

His teaching assistant job in the simulation department requires him to create various 3D models out of clay, paint, makeup and other artificial ingredients for students who need to hone their instincts and decision-making skills when they encounter certain injuries for the first time.

“Nurses need to be ready to deal with emergency situations on day one,” McCann said while taking some time between classes, shifts and daddy duties. “The natural instinct is to fight or flight which can lead to hesitation when there can’t be any delay. The patient’s life depends on it.”

The problem is that it takes a long time to build models of injuries that are realistic at scale. McCann could spend hours creating a model of a weeping wound on a forearm. A student comes in, runs through the simulation, and, in the process, creates a mess and ruins the model. McCann would then have to clean up the room and equipment and fix or create a new model—taking anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Running simulations for even a handful of students became a logistical nightmare.

Enter McCann’s interest in creating an augmented reality (AR) experience with the Blended Reality project to replace the messy, tedious process. His hope is that his application allows him to run the same simulation (or multiple variations) to students right after the other without the limitations of physical models. 

Augmented Reality Simulations

The first prototype that McCann created uses QR codes that can be scanned by a phone or tablet. A photo of an injury is rendered on the device, and the student has to run through a series of questions to prioritize, diagnose and treat the patient. 

A second prototype requires the student to put on a HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headset that projects a virtual 3D model on top of a mannequin. A simulation created by McCann and his development partner Bobby Berry in the gaming engine Unity reveals a major gash on the forearm that is literally gushing blood. 

The student has to choose between three treatment options: put a band-aid on the wound, apply direct pressure or apply a tourniquet. If you choose the correct option—a tourniquet in this case—the bleeding stops. If you choose incorrectly, an explanation of the correct treatment is given, providing a teachable moment.

Streamline Teaching Assistant Job

The idea is that students will be able to experience as close to the real thing before being thrust into the field. This previously required inflexible physical models and messy fake blood, but now, everything can be cleaned up and reset at the push of a button. Eventually, McCann hopes to create a library of simulations that can be swapped out at will and added to full-blown scenarios that feature multiple injuries and victims. Having a stacked library will allow him to easily tweak scenarios in the middle of a simulation if something isn’t working or if it gets repetitive—giving him flexibility to adapt curriculum on the fly. Most importantly, simulations that used to take a full day for hundreds of students can now be streamlined to take a few hours. The AR project will also save the department thousands of dollars on mannequins which can cost up to $50,000 for a single full-body figure.

It’s these time- and cost- saving benefits that make McCann believe there could be a market for his AR application. According to a report by Grandview Research, the medical simulation market will grow to $5.26 billion by 2026 despite an absence of a viable VR or AR product today. McCann is already working with startup and business resources available through Yale to push something like this to market. He presented at the Yale Innovation Summit earlier this year and got positive feedback that he’ll use to make his business case next year when he has a more developed product.

Until then, the Nursing Sim project will be used to streamline the simulation department in the nursing school. It’s a great example of an innovative Yalie using technology and available resources to save the school time and money while improving education outcomes. And it all started with a need to save some time.