2017 Business Leaders of the Year | Medical & Healthcare
When people think about the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the descriptors “innovative,” “cutting-edge” and “ahead of its time” do not immediately come to mind. But how many individuals are aware that almost 30 years ago, the VHA was leading innovation with the introduction of the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). It was one of the first electronic health record (EHR) systems and today is used throughout the United States, linking all the VHA’s 1,200-plus health care sites. An extraordinary innovation, it garnered the Computer World Smithsonian Award back in 1995.
Yasuharu (Haru) Okuda, M.D., of VHA SimLEARN (Simulation Learning, Education and Research Network) National Simulation Center, headquartered at the new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona, could well be leading the next revolution in clinical training and patient outcomes.
“The current model of healthcare education, which continues to rely heavily on the ‘see one, do one, teach one’ paradigm, is extremely outdated and not patient care-focused,” explained Okuda, the national medical director of SimLEARN. The engaging young doctor is considered not only a thought leader, but also an early adopter and trendsetter in the use of simulation in clinical training.
“In an era that strives to reduce errors in medicine, it’s no longer appropriate to be ‘practicing’ on patients,” he observed.
Central Florida has become synonymous with the modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) industry and is home to the largest cluster of MS&T researchers and developers, from TEAM Orlando, which is an unprecedented cooperative alliance between various branches of the military, to world-famous game developers like EA Sports. The move by the VA to not only make the kind of investment that SimLEARN represents, but to also locate it in Orlando, reinforces the trajectory this sector and region is heading.
Having trained as a concert violinist, Okuda knows something about the necessity of practice to develop and retain skills. “Whether you’re playing the violin or playing golf, practice is what hones your expertise,” he said. “Regrettably, we intensely train health care personnel, particularly physicians, and once they’re finished with medical school and residency they’re expected to be gameday ready for life. Imagine a player making it to the NFL but only playing in games on Sunday and never practicing. We would consider that absurd.”
Okuda’s innovative approach has taken a page out of the training methods used for airline pilots and flight attendants. “We put our personnel in immersive simulation scenarios to rehearse in a safe environment to not only learn skills, but learn to make what could be life-or-death decisions,” he explained. “Our purpose isn’t to simply identify weakness, but to create an instructional environment that produces self-discovery and team cohesiveness.”
Not only a medical practitioner, Okuda is an ambassador for this new approach. James Gordon, M.D., director of a simulation center at Massachusetts General Hospital, previously collaborated with Okuda and was quoted as saying, “Haru doesn’t come to the table assuming everyone will agree with him. He’s able to engage people in thoughtful conversations and debate.”
Beyond the work SimLEARN is doing to improve veteran health care outcomes in areas like emergency response or highly sophisticated surgical procedures, one of the high priorities for Okuda and his team is adapting simulation training to suicide prevention. With the number of aging veterans in our country and the increasing number of veterans returning from theatres of war with both physical and mental injuries, his work is having an impact that staggers the imagination.