Not Every Simulation Scenario Needs to Have a Diagnostic Mystery!

It is quite common to mistakenly believe that there needs to be a diagnostic mystery associated with a simulation scenario. This could not be further from the truth.

Sometimes it arises from our clinical hat being confused with our educator hat (meaning we let our view of the actual clinical environment become the driving factor in the design of the scenario.) We must carefully consider the learning objectives and what we want to accomplish. One of the powerful things about simulation is that we get to pick where we start and where we stop, as well as the information given or withheld during the scenario.

Let us take an example of an Inferior Wall Myocardial Infarction (IWMI). Let us imagine that we desire to assess a resident physician’s ability to manage the case. Notice I said to manage the case, not diagnose, then manage the case. This has important distinctions on how we would choose to begin the scenario. If the objectives were to diagnose and manage, we might start the case with a person complaining of undifferentiated chest pain and have the participant work towards the diagnosis and then demonstrate the treatment. Elsewise, if we were looking to have them only demonstrate proficiency in the management of the case, we may hand them an EKG showing an IMWI (or maybe not even hand them the EKG) and start the case by saying, “your patient is having an IWMI” and direct them to start the care.  

What is the difference? Does it matter?

In the former example of starting the case, the participant has to work through the diagnostic conundrum of undifferentiated chest pain to come up with the diagnosis of IWMI. Further, it is possible that the participant does not arrive at the proper diagnosis, in which case you would not be able to observe and assess them in the management of the case. Thus, your learning objectives have become dependent on one another. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with this as long as it is intended. We tend to set up cases like this because that is the way that the sequencing would happen in the actual clinical environment (our clinical hat interfering). However, this takes up valuable minutes of simulation, which are expensive and should be planned judiciously. So, my underlying point is if you deliberately are creating the scenario to see the diagnostic reasoning and treatment, then the former approach would be appropriate.

The latter approach, however, should be able to accomplish the learning objective associated with demonstrating the management of the patient. Thus, if that is truly the intended learning objective, the case should be fast-forwarded to eliminate the diagnostic reasoning portion of the scenario. Not only will this save valuable simulation time it will also conceivably lead to more time to carefully evaluate the treatment steps associated with managing the patient. Additionally, it will eliminate the potential of prolonged simulation periods that do not contribute to accomplishing the learning objectives and/or get stuck because of a failure to achieve the initial objective (in this case, for example, the diagnosis.)

So, the next time you make decisions in the scenario’s design, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I designing it this way because this is the way we always do it? Am I designing it this way because this is the way it appears in the real clinical environment?”

The important point is that one is asking themselves, “How can I stratify my design decisions so that the scenario is best crafted to accomplish the intended learning objectives?” If you do, you will be on the road to designing scenarios that are efficient and effective!

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