Simulation Programs, Hospitals and Health Systems: Where is the organizational fit?

Some excerpts taken from a plenary speech I delivered in Taipei, Taiwan recently to healthcare leaders and education directors. It is important that simulation programs position themselves within complex healthcare systems to be able to deliver maximal benefit to the organization. High performing simulation programs need to deliver more than educational resources to the organization.

 

 

 

 

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Embedding Simulation into Patient Safety

Excerpts from a recent plenary presentation regarding embedding simulation into patient safety as related to the Swiss Cheese model from Dr James Reason.

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Operational Realities and Simulation Program Design for Practicing Professionals

Doctor Instructing Nurses In Hospital RoomAs educators involved in the design of simulation based activities we like to have a clear understanding of what we are trying to accomplish in a given educational encounter. We often talk about beginning with a needs analysis to determine what will bring most impact. We ideally design learning objectives that are well matched to our intended participants. We execute scenarios and debrief them expertly covering all the relevant topics. While this is an idealized workflow for the development of a simulation encounter, it doesn’t always translate to reality when we attempt to execute a program. Our success may be in the ability to creatively adapt our educational program to the realities of the environment and situations that it will be conducted.

One reason that such a discordance can occur is that we fail to consider operational realities into the design of our educational gems. The adage of trying to stuff 8-pounds of learning into a 5-pound bag is well known. It also seems to be a constant struggle in the design of simulation programs where there is often an urgency to “teach them everything they need to know.” However, such attempts can put students, faculty members, and programs at disadvantages. This can come from many different perspectives ranging from failing to accomplish the intended learning goals, erosion of confidence in the program, the faculty, as well as hampering the ability of the program to make change as designed and/or desired.

Considering operational realities of simulation program design are critically important when creating programs that are aimed at the training of practicing professionals. In particular, when designing those programs that may interrupt or be embedded into the normal workflow of the caring of actual patients.

Let’s consider the design of a program that provides a mock-resuscitation scenario conducted impromptu in an ICU that the unit nurses, physicians and respiratory therapists (RT) will participate.

During our needs assessment and our expert opinions of the design of an educational encounter we may imagine many things that need to be covered during the debriefing for a specific topic. Such topics may include the demonstration of knowledge of the therapeutics that the patient needs from the nurse, the physician, the RT, the assessment of the patient, further testing needed, communication, teamwork and so on.

First off, is the obvious. Operational parameters should be built-in to provide criteria for a go/no-go decision for the scenario. While in this day and age all healthcare units are busy, it is not advisable ethically, or operationally from a patient safety perspective, to divert healthcare resources to a training activity if the target unit is already overwhelmed. Such decisions are ideally achieved in advance during the program design phase through a collaborative discussion involving the simulation and the clinical unit manager. They are best defined in advance depending on the overall educational and improvement goals.

The obvious next consideration is the time that is available. This includes time for the scenario as well as the debriefing. Carefully considering the needs of the learners as well as the dynamics of the operational realities is particularly important. Additionally, factoring in how the scenario is embedded into the overall curriculum is critical.

For example, is this a scenario that is once and done? Meaning that the participants will not likely encounter any further simulations until next year. Or is this a recurring educational effort in this ICU where we will have repeated engagement with the care providers over time. This could have significant bearing on the length of time you spend in various topics during the debriefing.

Continuing with our above example of the ICU resuscitation scenario it is common to have much less time than anticipated to conduct the debriefing. Design considerations should include a prioritization of learning topics that adapt to the operational reality. For example, imagine there is a fifteen-minute period of time that occurs after the scenario for debriefing and then everyone scampers off back to work. Let’s pretend there are learning objectives SPECIFIC to nursing care, physician care and care provided by respiratory therapy. Then there are learning objectives around communication and team work that cut across the disciplines. We would want to design the debriefing discussion to focus on those topics that are multidisciplinary and would maximally benefit from a group discussion.

Thus, in this case, it would likely do a disservice to the domain specific objectives or learning points by trying to artificially shorten each one AND then also try to cover communications and teamwork. (In other words, none of the objectives get covered very well.) We may be better off focusing on the communication and teamwork while the nurses, physicians and therapists are all still in attendance as that would likely give the biggest bang for the buck for that operational circumstance.

Having achieved successful accomplishment of the communications and teamwork objectives we now need to turn our creative curricular designing efforts to the domain specific learning objective. This is why it is critical for simulation educators to think more-broadly and realize that they are healthcare educators that use simulation as part of a learning method.

As part of our overall design of the goals for the entire learning activity, perhaps we could email the nursing specific protocols or highlights of the intended learning to the nurses after the event. Or perhaps direct them toward a brief on-line learning encounter specific to the goals of the scenario. We could do the same for the physicians and the RT’s. The content in this case would be tailored specifically toward the care providers and will likely seem more relevant to the recipient.

I am of the opinion that once the care team experiences the simulation they will be more receptive to and engaged in the downstream feedback that they may receive after the encounter (meaning simulation and debriefing) is completed.

I believe this is true particularly if the information is specific to the practice domain, succinct, relevant, and tied directly to the simulation activity. Their participation in the simulation likely helps them to realize areas needed for self-improvement as well as an overall heightened engagement in the learning process. Contrast this thought to the education motivation, or lack thereof, that is realized through a list of mandatory on-line training programs that one gets assigned annual as part of a regulatory requirement. (Can you say annual torture?)

So, as you move forward be sure to consider operational realities and try to remain nimble on creative ways to accomplish the learning. It may be different then your initial vision of the activity. Simulation education creators should engage collaboratively with operational leaders particularly if the encounters are embedded into the mix of healthcare operations.

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Simulation Technicians – Part of the Critical Recipe of Success

SimTech.aJust about every successful simulation in the world has one thing in common. No its not a high fidelity design, great curricular integration or a fabulous debriefing. What is it then?????  Answer: There was a Simulation Technician involved. Sim Techs are crucial to the success of programs and are integral to any team using significant simulation. Sim Techs come in many varieties in terms of backgrounds, titles, and in some smaller programs, many share one of many responsibilities.

I do have a bias that I will disclose. I started my career as an Electronics Technician in the US NAVY. After nearly two years of Navy training I cut my teeth aboard an Aircraft Carrier, the USS John F Kennedy (CV-67). Now that was truly an immersive learning experience! USS.JFKAfter I screwed something up one day when we were off the coast of Libya in 1986, the Electronics Materials Officer called me in the office and said “Son, do I have to remind you where this boat is pointed?” me: “No Sir!”  him: “Now stop being a technician and join this team as a thinker.”

It is important to engage the Sim Tech in every aspect of the simulation. Too often they are thought of as “just a tech”, but this is a HUGE mistake. Engaged professional Sim Techs are capable of many things that can add value to your program beyond setting up, driving mannequins and cleaning up.

Sim Techs are capable of learning how to evaluate and SOldering.asort high quality simulation from that needing improvement, or good debriefing to less than good. Dare I say…. They can also be trained to conduct or participate in debriefings in very creative ways. Sim Techs interacting with your participants can help to alleviate anxiety and get ahead of problems before they occur. They can play a significant role in your quality improvement programs. After all, you have to imagine. They see a lot of simulation!

Sim Techs are highly capable at helping to orient faculty and help to get faculty functioning at a higher level. This may include how to operate A/V equipment, drive simulator, or reset a simulation room to be ready for the next group.

Engaged Sim Techs take pride in their work, become embedded into the effort and share in the pain when something doesn’t go as planned. This level of ownership will often help to transition a program into high reliability operation that has everyone beaming with pride.

The Sim Tech community as a whole harbors a huge supply of energy and creativity and love to participate in being a part of solutions. Whether its moulage, creating a special SimTech2.aenvironment, app, smell, video, visual cue, you can call upon the technical community to solve it.

It is encouraging to see a more professional approach to the workforce development of the simulation community. Achieving certification as a Certified Healthcare Simulation Operations Specialist (CHSOS) through the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH), can be a great source of professional pride for the technician in addition to ensuring competence in several important areas that well trained technicians should have as a minimum.

I would highly recommend encouraging your technicians to take part in training, attending meetings with other techs and engaging in the available networking can pay off in great dividends.  Being current with their knowledge and being able to interact closely with vendors to not only know what is coming out down the pike, but sometimes being able to influence future products are other reasons to make a place in your budget for technician training. In addition to meetings such as the International Meeting for Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH), several high-quality specialty meetings have been created that dedicate a sole focus on technical training from the SSH as well as specialty organizations such as SimGHOSTS. High quality training programs are being offered by simulation centers both in person and on-line such as ours at WISER.

No Simulation Technician is “just a tech” unless the program leadership makes them that. Embrace your technicians. Nurture their professional development and status in and among the team. Push the envelope of their capabilities and creativity to expand into new roles and ownership of your simulation efforts. You will not only be thankful, but wonder why it took so long to realize this is a vital ingredient to the sauce of success of highly capable simulation programs!

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Fire Alarm Systems and Simulation Programs in Hospitals – What is the ROI?

shutterstock_278643779How do you respond to your financial administrator or controller of the purse strings when they ask you what the return on investment is for your hospital-based simulation program? It’s quite complicated.

Return on investment in today’s vernacular implies that there is a financial spreadsheet that can show a positive bottom line after revenue (or direct cost savings) and expenses are accounted for. This is really difficult to do with simulation.

I have seen business plan after business plan of simulation centers that have promised their administration that they will become financially positive and start bringing in big bucks for the institution in some given period of time. Usually it’s part of the business plan that justifies the standing up of the simulation center. I think I can count on one hand the simulation programs that have actually achieved this status. Why is this?

The answer is because calculating discrete return on investment from the simulation alone is extraordinarily difficult to do. While there are some examples in the literature that attempt to quantify in dollar terms a return on investment, they are however few and far between. It is largely confined to some low hanging fruit with the most common example and published in the literature focusing on central line training.

Successfully integrated hospital focused simulation programs likely have found a way to quantify part of their offerings in a dollars and cents accounting scheme, but likely are providing tremendous value to their organizations that are extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible to demonstrate on spreadsheet.

What is the value the simulation center may bring to the ability of a hospital to recruit more patients because the community is aware of patient safety efforts and advanced training to improve care? What is the value of a simulation center in its ability to create exciting training opportunities that allow the staff to feel like the system is investing in them and ultimately helping with recruiting of new staff, along with retention of existing staff members?

What is the value or potential in the ability to avoid causing harm to patients such as mismanaged difficult airway because of simulation training of physicians and other providers who provide such care? What is the value of litigation avoidance for the same topic?

Also, the value proposition of the successfully implemented simulation program for patient safety extinguishes itself over time if it significantly reduces or eliminates the underlying problem. This is the so-called phenomenon of safety being a dynamic, nonevent. Going back to the more concrete example of airway if your airway management mishap rates have been essentially zero over several years, the institutional memory may become fuzzy on why you invest so much money and difficult airway training….. A conundrum to be sure.

I think of fire alarm systems in the hospital as similar situation Let’s compare the two. Fire alarm systems detect or “discover” fires, began to put the fire out, and disseminate the news. Simulation programs have the ability to “detect” or discover potential patient safety problems for the identification of latent threats, poor systems design or staffing for example. Once identified, the simulation program develops training that helps “put out” the patient safety threat. One could argue that the training itself is the dissemination of information that a patient safety “fire” exists.

Fire alarm systems and hospitals cost hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of dollars to install and run on the annual basis. But the chief financial officer never asks what’s the return on investment? Why is that?

Well, perhaps it is a non-issue because fire alarm systems have successfully been written into law, regulations of building codes and so on. Regulation is an interesting idea for simulation to be sure but probably not for a long time.

However, if you think about it beyond a regulatory requirement, the likelihood of a given fire alarm system actually saving a life is probably significantly less probable then a well-integrated simulation program that is providing patient safety programs designed around the needs of the institution it serves. Admittedly the image of hundreds of people being trapped in a burning building is probably more compelling to the finance guy then one patient at a time dying from hypoxia from a mismanaged difficult airway.

Do you really know what to do when the fire alarm system goes off in your hospital? I mean we have little rituals like close the doors etc. But what next? Do we run? If we run, do we run toward the fire? Or away from the fire?  Do we evacuate all the patients? Do we individually call the fire department? Do we find hoses and start squirting out the fire?

When we conduct simulation-based training in hospitals that are aligned with the patient safety needs of the given institution we are extinguishing or minimizing the situation that patients will undergo or suffer from unintended patient harm. The existence of simulation programs and attention to patient safety education are a critical need for the infrastructure of any hospital caring for patients.

The more we can expand upon this concept and allow our expertise in simulation to contribute to the overall mission of the institution in reducing potential harm to patients and hospital staff, the more likely we will receive continuing support and be recognized as important infrastructure to providing the highest quality and safety to our patients.

Just like the fire alarm systems.

 

 

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Patient Centered Debriefing – Putting the Patient First – A MUST for Healthcare Simulation

patientcentereddebiriefingDebriefing in healthcare education is a specific type of communication designed to allow enhanced learning through a post hoc analysis and (ideally) structured conversation of an event. While there are many different styles and methods commonly described for use in healthcare simulations there are generally some consistent principles. Common features of the goals of just about every debriefing method includes attempting to ensure that the participants involved in the event leave with an understanding of areas in which they performed well and areas that they could improve upon should the face a similar situation in the future.

Debriefing is not easy to do well for a variety of reasons, and suffice it to say generally improves with practice and a focus on improvement. Depending on the facilitator and/or the learner(s) many people struggle with ensuring learners depart the debriefing with a clear understanding of areas needed for improvement. Other times debriefers can make the mistake of focusing only on the negative, forgetting to elucidate the things that may have been done well.

I believe we need to always incorporate the needs of the patient into the debriefing. The thought that the simulation benefits the patient should permeate throughout the planning of all events in healthcare simulation including the debriefing.

With the proliferation of simulation based learning over the last two decades there has been an increased interest in faculty development and training of people to develop debriefing skills. Nearly every discussion of faculty training in the simulation healthcare simulation space includes some discussion of the safe learning environment and student-centered learning. These concepts are embedded in nearly every discussion and every publication on debriefing and feedback.

Ostensibly the safe learning environment is referring to a facilitator controlling the environment of simulations and debriefings to provide an environment of comfort that encourages participants to be able to share freely what is on their mind during the simulation and the debriefing without fear of repercussion, ridicule or reprisal. I also believe that it should encourage simulation faculty to remain vigilant for opportunities that need some sort active facilitation to assist a participant thought to be struggling with the situation from either an emotional or perhaps stressful stimulus.

Having been involved in the teaching of healthcare providers for almost thirty years and when thinking backing to the late eighties, I personally participated in early “simulations” designed to “knock students off of their game”. Thus, I can certainly relate to, and applaud the emergence of the concept of a safe-environment.

However, I now believe that the concept of a student-centered approach to healthcare education contributes to the illusion that the student is the ultimate benefactor of healthcare education programs. The concept has evolved because of a natural parenteral feeling of protection for students, along with the fact that experiential learning can be stressful. Balancing these factors can likely contribute to highly effective learning as well as a positive learning experience for the participant.

When applied to healthcare education student-centered learning can be a bit misleading, perhaps a bit irresponsible, in so far that it completely ignores the fact that the patient is the ultimate recipient of the educational efforts. It may be more comfortable for the faculty in the immediate because the student is present and the patient is not. However, if you think about it, down-stream it is likely incomplete and ultimately may do a disservice to both the learners and their patients.

The challenge is that when the pervasive thought process is student-centered, the culture, requisite curriculum and learning opportunity design will favor such a position. This can subtly influence the debriefing and interactions with participants in a way that fails to correct inaccurate or poor performance and/or reinforce decisions or actions that should be carried forward to actual care.

My colleagues and I have coined the term Patient-Centered Debriefing. I originally talked about it on my simulation blog in 2013. In the training of debriefers and the modeling of debriefing, we encourage the consideration of the needs of the patient and these seems to pull to a more appropriate anchor point. This slight shift in focus can also help to humanize the situation beyond the needs of the learner. Taking on the responsibility of eventual care of an actual patient can shift the mindset of the instructor to ensure the real goals of the simulations are met.

What does patient-centered debriefing look like? At casual observation it would appear the same as any other debriefing that is conducted with acceptable methods in 2017 under a premise of student centered debriefing. The difference is the facilitator(s), as well as perhaps the students, would be considering the ultimate patient outcomes associated with the learning objectives of the given scenario. Thus, if properly conducted, facilitator(s) would be less likely to gloss over or omit reconciliation of mistakes and/or errors of commission or omission that occurred during a simulation that would likely contribute to adverse sequela for the patient in a comparable actual healthcare setting. Simultaneously, however the facilitator will be maintaining the enshrined traditional “safe learning environment”.

In considering the needs of the patient there is a subtle reminder that it is our job as healthcare educators to best prepare learners for this reality and the time that we have to do it in is precious.  Further, particularly in simulation based learning it should be an ever present reminder that this is our ultimate purpose. I think it is particularly important for simulation facilitators who are not actively involved in the care of patients to consider this position. This is not to suggest that they are not doing a great job, but it seems like a reasonable active reminder to consider the needs of the patients who will be cared for by the learners involved in the simulation.

I am not suggesting that we abandon the attention to providing a safe learning environment for simulations as well as clinical learning environments. I do believe that this contributes to effective learning particularly in the simulated setting. I do believe that we need to reconsider the concept of student-centered learning insofar as the student being thought of as the epicenter of the overall education process and outcomes.

Reserving the definition and concepts of student centricity for considering the scholarly needs, learning styles, designs and appeals to the intrinsic motivating factors seem more appropriate. Any learning program in healthcare is far better to have a patient-centered axis from which all other actions and designs emerge.

I invite you to consider adopting a patient-centered debriefing into your work!

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Value and Learning Propositions for Safety through Simulation – Don’t Sell Your Efforts Short

shutterstock_561835375aAll too often it is easy to be stuck in a mindset which can create tunnel vision. One of those time frames in the simulation world can come from an overall short-sightedness, into the usefulness, power, wisdom and change that can result from well-run simulation efforts. Many people have heard the adage “with simulation is within the debriefing that all the learning occurs.”  While phrases like this are meant to underscore the importance of the debriefing following a simulation if they are taken too literally they can result in a lack of recognition of total value of the simulation program investments and contributions.

This phenomenon is prevalent when evaluating the impact of simulation programs as part of patient safety efforts in healthcare systems in hospitals. In-situ simulation programs, or mock code evaluation programs are of unquestionable value to those of us who are in leadership in patient safety roles. Undoubtedly learning can occur during the simulation itself as I discussed in a previous blog post. Further, we all recognize the value of learning that can occur during well-run debriefing sessions. Lastly and perhaps most importantly great value can come from the information obtained during the simulation.

Scenario and debriefing sessions involved in in situ and other simulation programs that occur with practicing professional’s as participants have their limitations. First, and most practically is the operational recognition that healthcare professionals can only be kept “off-line” for a certain period of time to accomplish the simulation and debriefing. Secondly, some topics may be more sensitive than others and are not appropriate to be addressed directly with individuals during a debriefing that involves peers, as well as other healthcare colleagues. This point may be considered when evaluating the political and perceptions of your in-situ programs as received by the staff. Lastly, when you execute such a simulation there is only so much that can be absorbed at one point in time before cognitive overload becomes a significantly limiting factor.

Thinking traditionally from a “simulationist” point of view, is easy to think that all of the learning that will be recognized comes from the performance of the simulation combined with debriefing. With structure, planning and a systems-based approach to the simulation efforts, data can be gathered and analyzed to help a given hospital, or health system, understand the capabilities and limitation of their various clinical delivery systems. This can be invaluable learning for the system itself, which can then be incorporated into a plan of change to improve safety or in other cases efficiency in the delivery of care.

The given plan of change may incorporate additional educational efforts, policy, procedure or process changes that will be made in a more informed way than if the data from the simulation was not available. To garner such useful information at a systems-based level it is important that the curriculum integration be developed with consistent measurement strategies, objectives and tools that will allow meaning information to accrue.

A well planned, needs based targeted implementation strategy will create larger value than the simulation efforts occurring in a silo not connected to a larger strategic plan of improvement. If you think about a simulation event it is easy to picture small groups of people learning a great deal from the participation in the scenario or program. Simulation has the unique capability to abstract information to help provide insight into aspects of the patient care that both go smoothly as well as identify opportunities for improvement simultaneous with deployment of useful learning.

Once these opportunities are catalogued and recognized, a transformation of greater scale can take place through careful planning and implementation of further patient safety efforts with defined targets. Partnering with your risk management or patient safety colleagues to work on the integration plan can be valuable for increasing leadership buy-in for supporting your simulation efforts.

So I challenge you! If you are running relations in situ make sure that you keep in mind that your educational efforts during the simulation scenario are part of a bigger picture of increasing the safety and/or efficiency for providing care to patients, thus bringing a higher return on investment for the simulation efforts that you are conducting.

Until next time…… Happy Simulating!

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