A nursing student and instructor dressed in white coats, orange stethoscopes and gloves, and cloth face coverings, look at a computer together in the hallway of a medical building.

Meeting Real-World Needs

Design and nursing students collaborate with faculty on a health care simulation app.

Every day at UT, students from different colleges and majors work in and out of the classroom to address some of the country’s biggest issues.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting approaches to health care in many places, students in the College of Architecture and Design and the College of Nursing have been working with faculty over the past year to design and test a simulation app, V-Visit Sim, to simplify virtual health care visits.

“The app helps us to diagnose problems, select treatments, and put an education plan together for patients in a learning environment that resembles what providers deal with in a real-world environment,” says Abby Begovich, a Doctor of Nursing Practice student from Farragut, Tennessee.

Currently in its beta version, V-Visit Sim gives health care providers in training hands-on simulated experience performing virtual health care visits. “It comes preloaded with 40 clinical scenarios that health care providers regularly encounter, such as pinkeye, viral infections, allergic reactions, and diaper rashes.

At the beginning of a session, students log in to the platform, pick a case, and chat back and forth with a patient simulation that provides information such as medications taken, immunization records, the chief complaint, and even photos.

“In clinicals, you’re face to face with a person. You can ask 100 questions,” says Begovich, who is among a select number of family, pediatric, and mental health nurse practitioner students testing the app this spring. “This simulation app really makes you think through what you need to ask and what is most important for the patient.”

Nursing student wearing white coat, orange face covering and gloves, looks at the V-Visit Sim app on her tablet.

The app, which can be used on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, was created by faculty in UT’s state-of-the-art Health Innovation Technology and Simulation (HITS) Lab, a partnership between the College of Nursing and the Tickle College of Engineering. Lisa Merritt, clinical assistant professor of nursing, and Xueping Li, professor of industrial and systems engineering, have been leading the app’s development and working closely with students from the beginning.

In 2020, Merritt and Li contacted Professor of Graphic Design Cary Staples to see if she had students interesting in producing onboarding and tutorial videos for the app. Before long, Staples had assembled a small team of student designers who were hired on as undergraduate researchers for the project.

“We started out by asking, ‘How could we best cater these videos to students logging in for the first time?’” says Allie Torres-Lopez, a transfer student from Greenville, South Carolina. “And we noticed these pain points that might cause confusion for a first-time user. So we proposed putting the videos to the side for a moment and going back to work on improving the app to make it more functional and appealing to users.”

Torres-Lopez learned that the V-Visit Sim app could eventually be marketed to other universities looking to train students in telehealth services. So she and classmate Samantha Huang developed a front-end website where users could log in, register, and ask questions. By the end of their time on the project, they felt that they had been able to put meat on bone—a professional experience Torres-Lopez hadn’t expected to get as a sophomore in college.

We got to be mentored along the way and to do work that has a bigger purpose. The work I got to do on this app can help make health care more accessible for patients. What drives me most is knowing that I’m ultimately helping people. I figured that out while working on this project.”

—Allie Torres-Lopez

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