Debriefing 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!