The learning revolution

Taking an idea and a patient simulator, Lou Oberndorf created an industry that changed health care education.

By Karen Dooley

When Lou Oberndorf and members of the UF team who invented the Human Patient Simulator hit the road in 1996 to introduce the new teaching tool to would-be buyers, they weren’t just building a client base, they were creating an industry – and they were revolutionizing medical education.

“The power of the simulator was automatic, and we understood its potential, and frankly, we were surprised it was so groundbreaking in medicine” said Oberndorf, who founded Medical Education Technologies, Inc. based on technology developed by members of the department of anesthesiology at the College of Medicine. Starting with only five employees and the unique capabilities of the computerized mannequin, Oberndorf has led METI to become the world’s leading medical education and simulation company.

Today there are more than 6,000 METI patient simulators in thousands of health care and educational institutions in more than 70 countries. Crucial in this growth were the first clients and medical schools who bought into the technology, Oberndorf says.

“Those early adopter sites were keys to our success, and it was all done in partnership with the UF,” Oberndorf explains. “We always honored the integrity of the medical education community.”

In July, Oberndorf stepped down as CEO of the company he founded and handed over those duties to METI President Michael Bernstein. He remains, however, as the company’s chairman.

Michael L. Good, MD, dean of the College of Medicine, presents Lou Oberndorf with the University of Florida Honorary Alumnus award during the 2010 Human Patient Simulation Network meeting in March.

Oberndorf’s first experience with UF and the patient simulator came in 1994 when he was vice president of marketing and business development for Loral Corp., a defense and aerospace technology firm. He was more than familiar with the impact simulators had on teaching, especially for those learning complicated and high-risk skills such as flying a fighter jet. When he saw UF’s human patient simulator, he immediately recognized its potential in training physicians and health care workers who, for thousands of years, relied heavily on practicing on people.

“I was blown away when I saw it, and that thrill has stayed with me all these years,” he says.

Seeing an opportunity to take the technology and create a business, Oberndorf started METI in Sarasota, Fla., after licensing the HPS technology from UF. Fewer than 15 medical simulators were in use around the world at the time.

“The complex mathematical models that accurately simulate human physiology and real-time response to medications were nothing short of revolutionary,” says Oberndorf.

One young anesthesiology faculty member who used his computer science background to help develop the high-fidelity simulator was Michael L. Good, MD, the College of Medicine’s current dean.

“I would describe Michael Good as a maestro,” Oberndorf says. “He was masterful in teaching other physicians what they could accomplish with the simulator.”

It wasn’t long before Oberndorf and his METI staff decided that if the technology was good enough for anesthesiologists, medical schools and resident training, it could be beneficial for nursing education, medic training and combat medicine. The company now develops products for all areas of health care, partnering existing curriculum with the use of simulation.

“We evolved from a simulation company to an education company,” Oberndorf says. “It has always been our vision to be first and foremost about learning.”

In step with this vision, the Lou and Rosemary Oberndorf Charitable Fund established a new professorship in the College of Medicine that will continue to integrate technology with UF’s medical curriculum.

“We will never go back to teaching medical education the way we did 20 years ago,” Oberndorf says. “The use of technology in health care delivery is the key, and I believe UF must again vault itself to the lead as innovators of medical education technologies.

“It can do that now with the right leadership in place,” he says. “That’s what endowing this professorship is about — leadership.”

Announced this fall, the Lou Oberndorf Professorship in Healthcare Technology will complement planned changes in medical education at UF.

“As the College of Medicine engages in a major revision of its curriculum to better prepare its graduates for the emerging changes in health care, it is important that we continue to take advantage of the latest technology in our teaching strategies,” says Good. “Private support to foster the use of technology strengthens our medical school and keeps us at the forefront of today’s thought leaders in health care.”

In that respect, visit most any medical school today and you will find UF’s legacy — the Human Patient Simulator.

“It is still the gold standard of health care simulation technology today,” says Oberndorf. “If you are a new medical school anywhere in the world, you have to have the Human Patient Simulator.

“That is the UF legacy.”