Monaca company's products sharpen nurse education

| Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Nurses in training used to have two options to practice administering injections: on oranges and each other.

Injecting saline into fruit was far from the real thing. The other method was just a little unsafe.

“That's the way it had always been done,” said Anthony Battaglia, founder of Monaca-based Pocket Nurse. “I went to nursing school in 1990. We had a skill lab, but it was very basic.”

Battaglia knew even then that there had to be a better way to train the next generation of nursing educators. And he has built his company around that premise.

Thanks in part to him, there is no need for nurses to abuse fruit — or each other — for their medical education. Today, they practice on a hockey-puck sized spongy disc called the “Inject Ed,” the biggest seller of about 8,000 products sold by Pocket Nurse, the company Battaglia founded in 1992.

Products that simulate a clinical setting have gained increased use in medical training programs for nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals. The Affordable Care Act has driven hospitals to expect more from health care workers with fewer certifications, who are being asked to perform many duties once handled by doctors amid an influx of new patients with often complicated medical problems.

In catering to this need, Pocket Nurse has grown from a single product company into one that makes and sells items ranging from medical mannequins to fake blood. The market is expected to grow 15 percent annually and reach nearly $1 billion in North America by 2020, according to India-based market research firm Meticulous Research.

Larger competitors such as Seattle-based Simulab Corp. have focused on physician education, offering tools for surgeons in training. Pocket Nurse carved its niche serving nursing programs and, more recently, pharmacy technicians. They are disciplines that are giving increased attention to simulation in their training.

“Simulation is effective because it provides an opportunity to learn that is not in a live setting,” said Lisa Lifshin, director of pharmacy technician accreditation and residency services at the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists. “This way, it's not affecting a patient and it certainly provides a safer environment to learn.”

Last year, the society began requiring 80 hours of lab simulation for pharmacy technician programs that it accredits. The stepped-up emphasis on simulation among professions outside of nursing has opened opportunities for Pocket Nurse, said Matthew Inman, the company's director of sales and business development.

“There will always be plenty of work and opportunity staying in nursing simulation but ... those other disciplines are now taking notice,” he said. “And because of that, we have to expand our product offering and the way we look at the market because, for one, if we don't, we're losing out on opportunity.”

Simulation training has come a long way since Battaglia started the company as a young nurse at Allegheny General Hospital. He began with the Pocket Nurse, a pocket organizer that included bandage scissors, hemostat and a penlight. A family physician had given Battaglia the idea and he began by selling it to pharmaceuticalreps, who would give it away as a promotional item.

Battaglia soon saw other opportunities to make products for nursing education.

“More people started jumping on simulation. They started building simulation centers,” he said. “The whole industry just started to grow and we were first in line.”

Concern for patient safety has driven the shift. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America behind heart disease and cancer, according to the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Schools have sought to cut back on those errors by making sure nurses are trained in scenarios that are as realistic as possible, said Mary Ellen Glasgow, dean of Duquesne University's School of Nursing.

Duquesne opened a state-of-the-art simulation center last year and equipped it with Pocket Nurse products. Glasgow said Battaglia's experience as a nurse has given him an edge in understanding the needs of clinical nurses and developing products to teach them.

“He really understands nursing education and nurses' daily work,” she said. “It's not some consultant coming in. What nurses do is a theme throughout his company at every step.”

Some of the best market research comes from the nurse educators themselves, Battaglia said. He solicits their feedback to stay on top of the latest trends affecting how they do their jobs.

Battaglia wants the company's products to be relevant, not just so that nursing programs will buy them, but ultimately so that it will improve care for patients.

“If you can better education, then it's better for everybody. Better for the nurses, better for the patients,” he said. “You're always striving for better outcomes. With simulation, you have the opportunity with an educated person to have better outcomes.”

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or

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