The U.S. health-care system is as complicated and intricate as it has ever been. As the demand on the medical-care system weighs heavier with each passing year, the need for properly trained nurses, doctors, specialists, and health-care technicians continues to grow. Increasingly, these professionals are turning to medical simulators for that training.
A medical simulator can be as simple as a simulated body part, say an arm, or as complex as a simulated human patient—these educational devices are used in hospitals, universities, and medical simulation centers.
Designed to train all levels of health-care workers, medical simulation centers provide high-quality, realistic patient experiences—just without the actual patients. Caregivers receive hands-on instruction in problem solving, state-of-the-art techniques, and efficient communication inside a simulated setting. The reputation of these training facilities is growing, as is the need for the medical simulator devices used in them.
Three main companies currently dominate the medical simulator industry. They hold an impressive monopoly over a market that’s expected to reach almost $969.8 million by 2020. Because they have so little competition, they’ve stopped bothering to compete and innovate, says David Escobar, medical simulator designer and president of Escobar Technologies.
“From a manufacturing and business standpoint, these companies have it very well made,” Escobar says. “If something breaks, you have to go to them.”
Escobar, a simulation specialist with a decade of experience as an EMT, cites several key problems with today’s most widely used simulators. Namely, they’re labor intensive, hard to clean, expensive to replace, and almost entirely single-function.
“In some of these simulators, what they’re using for veins right now is nothing different than tubing off the shelf at Home Depot,” Escobar says. “They don’t feel like veins; they don’t reseal like veins. They tend to leak a lot. They’re very difficult to maintain and very difficult to change out. I’m a firm believer that if the engineers were the end users of these products, they would not be designed the way that they are.”
Those points are among the many reasons Escobar and his industrial-designer brother, Joseph, are determined to upend the medical simulator market. Through Escobar Technologies, the brothers intend to bring about changes they hope will make training—and ultimately patient care—much more effective.
“We knew we could make a better product with less overhead and put more money into the design and the innovation behind these products,” Escobar says. “That’s why we started to move forward with the tools that we had at our disposal, including Autodesk Fusion 360, to design these products.” Coupling the design ease of Fusion 360 with the power of 3D printing, Escobar is able to make his medical simulators a reality.
Escobar holds a full-time job with a health-care simulation training center and is using his firsthand knowledge, as well as feedback he’s gathered throughout his career, to build and shape simulators that meet the growing needs of medical simulation operations. Compared to today’s current models, Escobar Technologies’ simulators will have three major benefits: a quick innovation cycle, a multiprocedure function, and a lower price.
The first device the brothers designed is one of the most basic: an intravenous arm. It is intended to train caregivers on proper techniques for inserting IVs. The typical intravenous arm model on the market today can cost a hospital or training center nearly $1,000. The Escobar Technologies model is targeted closer to $500 or $600.
Plus, the Escobar brothers’ model requires centers to purchase only one simulator—which covers venous-access and arterial-access procedures—another cost-saving measure. “Right now, you have to buy two products to teach one procedure,” Escobar says. “We want to incorporate both procedures into one simulator.”
Larger, more complicated simulators can cost hospitals and training centers more than $100,000. What’s worse, Escobar adds, those simulators don’t always work properly: “They’re very complex. Some of the problems are user errors, but most of it is poor design.”
Escobar Technologies’ first test-ready prototypes are rolling off the printer in mid-2016. These beta versions will be given to selected individuals and simulation centers for hands-on testing. The real-time collaboration with potential clients will allow the brothers to adapt and adjust their design and create new iterations that are better suited to mass-market production. A crowdfunding campaign will help the brothers reach their production goal of shipping simulators to customers by the end of 2017.
“Having the knowledge of how these products work and of what people want empowered us to compete with these larger companies,” Escobar says. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do with health-care simulation is improve patient care and improve communication and teamwork between caregivers. It should not cost a fortune to help people, especially when these are just training devices.”