March 26, 2012
It starts at a fictitious Perry County VA hospital.
A patient arrives complaining of flu-like symptoms after a trip to Indonesia. Within days, one patient becomes several as the virus begins to slowly, insidiously make its way through the region.
By the time the size of the outbreak becomes apparent, it is essentially too late to stop. Medical practitioners can only try to limit the scope of the infection and fatalities.
It sounds like the setup for a movie, maybe last year’s “Contagion.” Instead, it’s a computer-modeled simulation of what could happen if a flu pandemic were to occur in the midstate. Run by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the simulator puts doctors on the spot, forcing them to make health care decisions that determine how far the flu spreads. On Friday, doctors attending a Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians conference in Hershey were run through the wringer. The computer-driven program uses demographic information and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mimic the worst-case scenario of a widespread outbreak of virulent strain of the flu.
It’s a health care professional’s nightmare. The doctors were tasked to make decisions on behalf of a hospital in caring for the influx of sick people. The system then takes their decisions, and, based upon its modeling, figures out the outcome.
“It’s stressful, it’s realistic. Kind of scary,” said Chris Lupold, a physician in Lancaster, who on Friday was playing the role of a hospital administrator. “These types of scenarios ... they’re really interesting and really make you think about it.” Set over an eight-week period, the simulation compresses time, bombarding the doctors with information and “news alerts” that occur via loud video updates on wall-mounted televisions.