Many people design scoring instruments for simulation encounters as part of an assessment plan. They are used for various reason ranging from a tool to help provide feedback, research purposes, to high stakes pass/fail criteria. Enhancing the ability for assessment tools to function as intended may often be closely linked to scenario design.
Often times checklists are employed. When designing checklists is critical that you are asking the question “Can I accurately measure this?”. It is easy to design checklists that seem intuitively simple and filled with common sense (from a clinical perspective) but are not actually able accurately measure what you think you are evaluating.
It is quite common to see checklists that have items such as “Observes Chest Rise”; “Identified Wheezing”; “Observed Heart Rate”. During faculty training sessions focusing on assessment tool development we routinely run scenarios that contain deliberate errors of omission. These items, some are routinely scored, or “checked” as completed. Why is this? Part of the answer is we are interjecting our own clinical bias into what we think the simulation participant is doing or thinking. This raises the possibility that we are not measuring what we are intending to measure, or assess.
Consider two checklist items for an asthma scenario, one is “Auscultates Lung Sounds”; another item is “Correctly Interprets Wheezing”. The former we can reasonably infer from watching the scenario and see the participant listen to lung fields on the simulator. The latter however is more complicated. We don’t know if the participant recognized wheezing or not by watching them listen to the lungs. Many people would check yes for “Correctly Interpreted Wheezing” if the next thing the participant did was order a bronchodilator. This would be an incorrect assumption, but could be rationalized in the mind of the evaluator because of a normal clinical sequence and context.
However, it may be completely wrong and the participant never interpreted the sounds as wheezing, but ordered a treatment because of a history of asthma. Or what would happen if the bronchodilator was ordered before auscultation of the lungs? What you have by itself, is an item on your checklist that seems simple enough, but is practically unmeasurable through simple observation.
This is where linking scenario design and assessment tools can come in handy. If the item you are trying to assess is a critical element of the learning and assessment plan perhaps something in the simulation, transition to, or during the debriefing can cause the information to be made available to more correctly or accurately, assess the item.
A solution to a real-time assessment during the flow of the scenario is possible within the design of the scenario. Perhaps inserting a confederate as a nurse caring for the patient that is scripted to ask “What did you hear?” after the participant auscultates the lungs fields. This will force the data to become available during the scenario for the assessor to act upon. Hence the term, forcing function.
Another possibility would be to have the participant complete a patient note on the encounter and evaluate their recording of the lung sounds. Another possibility would just be to have the participant write down what their interpretation of the lung sounds were. Or perhaps embed the question into the context of the debriefing. Any of these methods would provide a more accurate evaluation of the assessment item ““Correctly Interpreted Wheezing”.
While not trying to create a list of exhaustive methods I am trying to provide two things in this post. One is to have you critically evaluate your ability to accurately assess something that occurs within a scenario with higher validity. Secondly, recognize that creation of successful, reliable and valid assessment instruments are linked directly to scenario design. This can occur during the creation of the scenario, or can be as a modification to an existing scenario to enhance assessment capabilities.
This auscultation item just serves as a simple example. The realization of the challenges of accurate assessment of a participants performance is important to recognize to allow for the development of robust, valid and reliable tools. The next time you see or design a checklist or scoring tool think in your own mind….. Can I really, truly evaluate that item accurately? If not, can I modify the scenario or debriefing to force the information to be made available?