USF CAMLS: Robots To Attract Docs From Around The Globe To Downtown Tampa

Just steps away from the Tampa Convention Center and the historic TECO streetcars, a former parking lot is undergoing a transformation as foundations are poured and walls erected for a landmark facility that USF officials envision as a game-changer for the future of medicine.

The primary goal of the $30 million USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) will be education.  But that's just the start.

The exterior of the building will add to downtown Tampa's ambience with a wall of windows and an art gallery fronting South Franklin Street. Decorative colored lights will make the building glow at night.  

Inside, an amazing display of technology will serve as realistic teaching tools for the doctors, nurses, paramedics and even military medics expected to arrive in Tampa to learn how to do it right before they perform the same procedure on patients.

Picture robotic mannequins called human patient simulators that look and act like real people – they have a heartbeat and pulse, their pupils dilate, their lungs inflate and they can die. That will be one component of the new facility. 

There will also be an entire floor set up like a virtual hospital with computer simulations recreating scenarios like surgery, intensive care, the emergency department and a code blue heart attack.    

In the 200-seat auditorium, satellite video conferencing will connect with medical centers around the world so doctors in Tampa can watch and interact with surgeons in distant places like Europe or Asia.

In a 6,000-square-foot R&D lab, scientists, doctors, engineers and information technology specialists will work together to design and develop the next-generation medical tools and devices.  

"I don't think everyone is really grasping just how big a deal this new center is and the potential it offers to our area," says Mark House, managing director for the Florida division of the Beck Group, the firm awarded the bid to both design and build the new facility.

Improving The Quality Of Healthcare

Stephen Klasko, M.D., CEO of USF Health, and Deborah Sutherland, Ph.D., associate vice president, are overseeing the CAMLS project, which they say will accomplish several important objectives – improving the quality of healthcare by changing the way doctors are trained and credentialed nationally; raising Tampa's profile as a world-class center for medical education and biotechnology; and serving as an economic engine for the area by bringing in an infusion of talent, ideas and dollars.

Klasko projects that some 60,000 doctors will visit the new downtown Tampa facility each year for continuing medical education training.  That doesn't include medical equipment companies bringing customers in for product training. Or the medical associations that may hold their regional conferences here in conjunction with the Tampa Convention Center.   

In addition, CAMLS is expected to serve as a an extension of the USF campus for resident physicians, medical students, nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists, giving USF a more visible presence downtown.

The potential for spin-off business for local hotels and restaurants is obvious.  But visitors might also want to attend a show or a Lightning game at the St. Pete Times Forum, a Bucs game at Raymond James Stadium, or go over to Channelside for entertainment.  

If the spouse and kids come along and the visit becomes a mini-vacation, the family may go the beach, theme parks, area attractions and shopping malls. The economic impact could be enormous.

Besides medical education, CAMLS will also focus on biotechnology. MERIT, a research and innovation center within CAMLS, will have 12 workstations and simulation resources available for research, design and testing. MERIT stands for Medical Engineering Research Innovation and Technology.

According to Stuart Hart, M.D., a USF assistant professor in OB/GYN who will oversee this area, experts from health and life sciences, engineering and business will come together to develop innovative medical products and devices. The goal is to improve treatment and enhance patient safety, he says, which will ultimately transforming healthcare.

Klasko also sees the synergy that is likely to result from such an R&D center.

"There is tremendous potential to attract medical device manufacturers, biotech startup companies and all of the related businesses," says Klasko.  "There is a lot of opportunity here."

Partnering To Simulate Reality

Simulation centers and training exercises are nothing new for the aviation and defense industries.  Commercial and military pilots train continually to keep their skills sharp.  But the idea of using this same concept in health to train doctors is still relatively new. Klasko hopes to be one-step ahead of the curve in making it happen.

"We looked around and said who's the best in the simulation field," says Klasko.  "That was definitely the airline industry." CAE, a leading provider of simulation and modeling technology, is now one of USF Health's partners in the CAMLS project.

"CAE will manage the facility and they're helping us create modules and standards to define medical competence," says Klasko.

Simbionix, a global corporation delivering simulation software products, is another CAMLS partner, says Klasko.  Last year USF Health and Simbionix received a grant to develop the first laparoscopic hysterectomy simulation module for training GYN surgeons in minimally invasive surgery techniques.

Minimally invasive surgery requires manual dexterity as doctors manipulate tiny instruments.  It also requires the ability to look at images on a video monitor and mentally translate them into three-dimensional anatomy. That type of technology has a learning curve, says Klasko.

"Think of CAMLS as a procedure rehearsal studio,'' says Klasko. "What we are doing here is developing a procedure-based credentialing process for physicians. It will make doctors accountable and ultimately improve the quality and safety in medicine."

A small USF prototype simulation center -- sort of a mini-CAMLS test site -- opened two years at Tampa General Hospital.  

Chad Rudnick, a fourth-year USF medical school student, says having that type of opportunity during his training has been a huge benefit. 

"Instead of just reading about it in a textbook, you are actually doing the procedure, inserting tubes, administering meds, making medical decisions and watching how the patient simulator responds," says Rudnick. "Practicing in a safe, hands-on situation like this allows us to be so much more prepared and confident when we face a similar situation with actual patients in the hospital."

Laura Haubner, M.D., a USF assistant professor of pediatrics who will direct the clinical simulation component of CAMLS, agrees.  "Immersing doctors into training that is as realistic as possible is the best type of learning experience."

Janan Talafer is a St. Petersburg-based freelance writer with a passion for springtime in Tampa Bay.  She shares a home office with her faithful cats Milo and Nigel and her dog Bear. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.