Nurses use simulation to spot early signs of addiction

Across the country, opioid abuse claims an estimated 44 lives each day.

Nursing students at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing are using avatars to prepare for real-life patient interactions involving substance abuse by incorporating evidence-based screening procedures.

The simulation program emphasizes early detection and prevention as opposed to treatment of patients with an existing disorder, according to WBAL-TV in Baltimore. Throughout Maryland, unintentional intoxication deaths reached 920 through the first six months of 2016, far outpacing the 601 deaths reported in 2015. Across the country, opioid abuse claims an estimated 44 lives each day.

Simulations allow nursing students to experience different scenarios with a wide range of substance abuse patients. The program emphasizes the use of SBIRT, known as screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment. The Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is using SBIRT to screen patients in counties across the state.

“Though they’re interacting with an avatar, it’s very realistic,” Deborah Finnell, a nursing professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, told the station. “And it very much replicates what happens in real life in clinical practice with people who may be at risk.”

Simulation programs have been used to help clinicians navigate doctor-nurse communication, prevent medical errors, and perfect highly technical surgical procedures. Simulations have also been shown to improve teamwork in the OR and reduce overcrowding in the ED.