Don’t Let the Theory Wonks Slow Down the Progress of Healthcare Simulation

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Those of us in the simulation community know well that when used appropriately and effectively simulation allows for amazing learning and contributes to students and providers of healthcare improving the craft. We also know there is very little published literature that conclusively demonstrates the “right way to do it”.

Yet in the scholarly literature there is still a struggle to define best practices and ways to move forward. I believe it is becoming a rate limiting step in helping people get started, grow and flourish in the development of simulation efforts.

I believe that part of the struggle is a diversity of the mission of various simulation programs ranging from entry level students to practicing professionals, varying foci on individualized learning incompetence, versus and/or team working communications training etc. Part of the challenges in these types of scholarly endeavors people try to describe a “one-size-fits-all“ approach to the solution of best practices. To me, this seems ridiculous when you consider the depths and breadth of possibilities for simulation in healthcare.

I believe another barrier (and FINALLY, the real point of this blog post 🙂  is trying to overly theorize everything that goes on with simulation and shooting down scholarly efforts to publish and disseminate successes in simulation based on some missing link to some often-esoteric deep theory in learning. While I believe that attachments to learning theory are important, I think it is ridiculous to think that every decision, best practice and policy in simulation, or experimental design, needs to reach back and betide to some learning theory to be effective.

As I have the good fortune to review a significant number simulation papers it is concerning to me to see many of my fellow reviewers shredding people’s efforts based on ties to learning theories, as well as their own interpretations on how simulation should be conducted. They have decided by reading the literature that is out there (of which there is very little, if any, conclusive arguments on best practices) has become a standard.

My most recent example is that of a paper I reviewed of a manuscript describing an experimental design looking at conducting simulation one way with a certain technology and comparing it to conducting the simulation another way without the technology. The authors then went on to report the resulting differences. As long as the testing circumstances are clearly articulated, along with the intentions and limitations, this is the type of literature the needs to appear for the simulation community to evaluate and digest, and build upon.

Time after time after time more recently I am seeing arguments steeped in theory attachments that seem to indicate this type of experimental testing is irrelevant, or worse yet inappropriate. There is a time and place for theoretical underpinnings and separately there is a time and place for attempting to move things forward with good solid implementation studies.

The theory wonks are holding up the valuable dissemination of information that could assist simulation efforts moving forward. Such information is crucial to assist us collectively to advance the community of practice of healthcare simulation forward to help improve healthcare globally.  There is a time to theorize and a time to get work done.

While I invite the theorist to postulate new and better ways to do things based on their philosophies, let those in the operational world, tell their stories of successes and opportunities as they are discovered.

Or perhaps it is time that we develop a forum or publication of high quality, that provides a better vehicle for dissemination of such information.

So…… in the mean time….. beware of the theory wonks. Try not to let them deter from your efforts to not only move your own simulation investigations forward, but to be able to disseminate and share them with the rest of the world!

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FIVE TIPS on effectively engaging adult learners in healthcare simulation

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True Systems Integration for Hospital Based Simulation Programs

Businessman is using tablet pc and selecting integrationHospital based simulation programs serve a different need than their counterparts housed in schools of medicine and nursing. The stakeholders, the mission, the program assessment and development of curriculum vary significantly. Not to over-generalize but the overall mission of the school focused simulation programs is based around having them integrated into the education processes that contribute to the development of successful students who will be called graduates. Many times, these students end up taking licensing, certifying or other high-stakes examinations that can serve as a convenient data set to assess the impacts of programs.

The mission of hospital, or health-system based programs can be more complex in terms of alignment within the organization. There is a myriad of possibilities within the healthcare delivery environment that can drive the objectives of simulation programs. Examples range from employee training and education; quality, safety or risk based; or perhaps focusing on facilities engineering perspectives. With all of these possibilities the potential strategies for measurement markers to evaluate the success of the program can become blurry, and at times harder to have ready access to the necessary information.

In an era of healthcare cost reductions that we are experiencing now in the United States and many other areas of the world there is significant pressure coming from many different sides to reduce costs and at the same time improve the quality of care. Thus, to prevail in this era of medicine any entity within healthcare delivery system that costs money to operate (like simulation programs) needs to ensure it is providing value to the hospital or system which supports it.

Determining such value can be very challenging. While there are a couple of examples in the literature of isolated value calculations (such as central line training) the utility of such reports is limited in isolation. In total they are only a minute part of the safety problems associated with the delivery of care in the hospital.

Determining the best value of a hospital based program can be achieved through a series of needs assessments that require the simulation leadership to establish relationships in the hospital leadership teams or C-Suites outside of folks involved in education. The true needs assessment comes from participating in a deep understanding of the existing problems, challenges, solutions and successes that the c-suite is incurring to execute the mission of the hospital. This information is often housed in offices of risk management, quality or patient safety.

Integration with the risk management team can better position the simulation program to understand the legal risks from errors and litigation that is currently facing the hospital. Identifying trends and subject matter that could benefit from simulation training can emerge.

Quality offices generally have significant amounts of information regarding the initiatives that the hospital should be, or is focusing on to better provide care to patients. Such initiatives are often based on measurement programs from payers (insurance companies, whether private of government such as Medicare) that result in significant financial risks and/or benefits for the organization. Thus, identifying simulation solutions that could benefit the initiative in some form or fashion can result in value creation for the program.

Patient Safety Offices (sometimes under, or aligned with quality offices) house much of the data on mistakes, small and large, and in some cases near misses, that are occurring in an institution. Such data will also have information on trends, as well as if there was harm transferred to the patient.

Access to this data over time can help to identify the true needs of organization, and help direct a value-based implementation of the simulation efforts. Importantly though, a careful analysis of this data can also help the simulation program recognize what is not likely to bring as much value to the organization.

Two things are important when considering such integration efforts. The first is, even though there is a new era of transparency emerging regarding patient safety, the information is sensitive. To achieve true integration the simulation program leadership needs to establish relationships across the organization. Ideally you desire not only access to the data, but also a presence that positions themselves closer to the core of the analysis and decision making. Many simulation programs remain peripheral to such processes and thus experience a contractor-vendor type of relationship instead of one more akin to an active partner. It takes time, trust and effort to develop such relationships.

Secondly, a dispassionate evaluation of the data that is achieved from the needs analysis is necessary with regard to properly interpreting the value provided by the simulation program. Many simulation programs are born of a passion to simulate, a passion of the first faculty members, and an attachment to legacy programs that have been running for years. For true alignment within an complex organization and surviving future value analysis initiatives (ie. Remaining supported and funded) a program needs to take a hard look at its existing programs and ensure they are pegged to the overall “true” needs of the institution at large.

While this post is not representative of all the possible strategies to integrate a simulation program, it is meant to give insight into a few examples of possibilities, and articulate the depth of the relationships that should be developed.

 

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Recreating Reality is NOT the goal of Healthcare Simulation

Discussing the real goals of Healthcare Simulation as it relates to the education of individuals and teams. Avoiding the tendency to put the primary focus into recreating reality, and instead providing the adequate experience that allows deep reflection and learning should be the primary focus. This will help you achieve more from your simulation efforts!

 

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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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