This fall, University of Houston (UH) optometry students began hands-on training in a first-of-its-kind simulation lab that offers them 24/7 access to virtual patients. The Optometric Clinical Skills Simulation Lab, which will better prepare students to administer patient care when they start clinical rotations, is the only one at an optometric program in the country and the largest in the world.
"When students come in this room and see the technology they're blown away," said assistant professor Heather Anderson, who led the initiative to bring the simulation lab to the UH College of Optometry. "The simulators have two components. The patient interface is a smooth black sheet of plastic with a 3-D face, and that face turns into the patient you're examining. The simulators take on the demographics of whatever cases are programmed into the computer, so now we can have the students examine elderly eyes, diseased eyes and eyes from all different ethnicities."
This is done through an augmented headband-mounted light that's used to obtain a view of the retina through a handheld lens in a procedure called indirect ophthalmoscopy. It's the same headband worn by professionals, but instead of having plain oculars to look through, it has LED screens mounted in it to create the images of the lifelike patients. The other component of the simulators is a touchscreen computer that brings up the different patient cases and faces. All images are based on actual clinical cases, so the images the students see are derived from real patient retinal photographs.