Tag Archives: debriefing

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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Learning from Simulation – Far more than the Debriefing

Most people have heard someone say “In Simulation, debriefing is where all of the learning occurs.” I frequently hear this when running faculty development workshops and programs, which isn’t as shocking as hearing this espoused at national and international meetings in front of large audiences! What a ridiculous statement without a shred of evidence or a realistic common sense approach to think it would be so. Sadly, I fear it represents an unfortunate instructor-centered perspective and/or a serious lack of appreciation for potential learning opportunities provided by simulation based education.LearningDuringSimulation2

Many people academically toil over the technical definitions of the word feedback and try to contrast in from a description of debriefing as if they are juxtaposed. They often present it in a way as if one is good and the other is bad. There is a misguided notion that feedback is telling someone, or lecturing to someone to get a point across. I believe that is a narrow interpretation of the word. I think that there are tremendous opportunities for learning from many facets of simulation that may be considered feedback.

Well-designed simulation activities hopefully provide targeted learning opportunities of which part of it is experiential, sometimes immersive, in some way. I like to think of debriefing as one form of feedback that a learner may encounter during simulation based learning, commonly occurring after engaging in some sort of immersive learning activity or scenario. Debriefing can be special if done properly and will actually allow the learner to “discover” new knowledge, perhaps reinforce existing knowledge, or maybe even have corrections made to inaccurate knowledge. No matter how you look at it at the end of the day it is a form of feedback, that can likely lead, or contribute to learning. But to think that during the debriefing is the only opportunity for learning is incredibly short-sighted.

There are many other forms of feedback and learning opportunities that learners may experience in the course of well-designed simulation based learning. The experience of the simulation itself is ripe with opportunities for feedback. If a learner puts supplemental oxygen on a simulated patient that is demonstrating hypoxia on the monitor via the pulse oximetry measurements and the saturations improve, that is a form of feedback. Conversely, if the learner(s) forgets to provide the supplemental oxygen and the saturations or other signs of respiratory distress continue to worsen then that can be considered feedback as well. The latter two example examples are what I refer to as intrinsic feedback as they are embedded in the scenario design to provide clues to the learners, as well as to approximate what may happen to a real patient in a similar circumstance.

With regard to intrinsic feedback, it is only beneficial if it is recognized and properly interpreted by the learner(s) either while actively involved in the simulated clinical encounter, and if not, perhaps in the debriefing. The latter should be employed if the intrinsically designed feedback is important to accomplishing the learning objectives germane to the simulation.

There are still other forms of feedback that likely contribute to the learning that are not part of the debriefing. In the setting of a simulated learning encounter involving several learners, the delineation of duties, the acceptance or rejection of treatment suggestions are all potentially ripe for learning. If a learner suggests a therapy that is embraced by the team, or perhaps stimulates a group discussion during the course of the scenario the resultant conversation and ultimate decision can significantly add to the learning of the involved participants.

Continuing that same idea, perhaps the decision to provide, withhold, or check the dosage of a particularly therapy invokes a learner to check a reference, or otherwise look up a reference that provides valuable information that solidifies a piece of information in the mind of the leaner. The learner may announce such findings to the team while the scenario is still underway thereby sharing the knowledge with the rest of the treatment team. Waaah Laaaah…… more learning that may occur outside of the debriefing!

Finally, I believe there is an additional source of learning that occurs outside of the debriefing. Imagine when a learner experiences something or becomes aware of something during a scenario which causes them to realize they have a knowledge gap in that particular area. Maybe they forgot a critical drug indication, dosage or adverse interaction. Perhaps there was something that just stimulated their natural curiosity. It is possible that those potential learning items are not covered in the debriefing as they may not be core to the learning objectives. This may indeed stimulate the learner to engage in self-study to enhance their learning further to close that perceived area of a knowledge gap. What???? Why yes, more learning outside of the debriefing!

In fact, we hope that this type of stimulation occurs on the regular basis as a part of active learning that may have been prompted by the experiential aspects provided by simulation. Such individual stimulation of learning is identified in the sentinel publication of Dr. Barry Issenberg et al in Vol 27 of Medical Teacher in 2005 describing key features of effective simulation.

So hopefully I have convinced you, or reinforced your belief that the potential for learning from simulation based education spans far beyond the debriefing. Please recognize that this statement made by others likely reflects a serious misunderstanding and underappreciation for learning that can and should be considered with the use of simulation. The implication of such short-sightedness can have huge impacts on the efficiency and effectiveness of simulation that begin with curriculum and design.

So the next time you are incorporating simulation into your education endeavor, sit back and think of all of the potential during which learning may occur. Of course the debriefing in one such activity during which we hope learning to occur. Thinking beyond the debriefing and designing for the bigger picture of potential learning that can be experienced by the participants is likely going to help you achieve positive outcomes from your overall efforts.


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Simulation can be Fun. And Serious.

shutterstock_286597808aI was recently energized by sitting in the back of one of our simulation rooms where two of my faculty colleagues were running simulations for some of Emergency Medicine Residents. They had prepared the session well and had clearly established a previously great and trusting relationship with the residents in a safe learning kind of way.

The residents seemed relaxed, smiling, and many were attending the session dressed in the likes of Khacki shorts, Teva’s and a Hawaiian shirt or two. During one of the scenarios the faculty member operating the simulator made a mistake and the “patient” took a turn for the worse when the correct treatment was ordered. He was on the other side of the glass and immediately said something funny about his mistake over the room speakers in a self-deprecating way. Everyone in the room was cracking up including the other faculty members, me, all of the team members and the resident observers. The simulation came to an end a few minutes later as the rest of the learning objectives were met

During the debriefing the faculty member called out his mistake once again to another round of snickers. Superficially it seemed that he was trying to be funny. Deeper I think he was level setting to ensure there wasn’t confusion of the change in status over the patient. Additionally he was ensuring to demonstrate the safe learning environment in so far as declaring that he was capable of making mistakes as well.

A few moments later the residents were engaged in a debriefing using the Structured and Supportive Debriefing Model and the GAS tool. During the debriefing many topics were covered ranging from teamwork, the initial care and stabilization of the patient, to aberrancies in the electrical system of the heart leading to wide complex tachycardia that can mimic ventricular tachycardia.

A few minutes later the debriefing was wrapped up expertly by the faculty member. Another scenario ensued with a new group of residents and again, unplanned, something funny happened. Again laughter, then back to work, then the end. Debriefing commenced. During the second debriefing led to a discussion of how cyanide poisoning interacts with cellular metabolic pathways of the P450 cytochrome system and the therapeutics that should be considered to save the patient’s life. During the conversation a few light hearted comments by residents created more laughing.shutterstock_261594212a

I sat back thinking….. this is really fun…….There they are dressed in their tevas and shorts…..Learning of all things…… imagine that. This is truly patient-centric simulation. Innovative education occurring in a comfortable atmosphere helping these future emergency physicians perfect their diagnostic, therapeutic and leadership skills. They don’t need to be in scrubs, shirts and ties or wearing hospital badges to optimize this learning opportunity. They are not going to show up to work in the hospital wearing shorts and tevas. They are professionals. You know what? They are in fact adult learners being treated as adults.

I was a bite envious of my faculty colleagues having creating this amazingly relaxed environment where the residents felt comfortable to speak up, right or wrong in front of each other and faculty members alike.  In fact they were encouraged to explore during the cases. And they were learning. Learning new concepts or at least reviewing topics and learning objectives that were appropriate for their training program.

Guys and gals dressed as if they were going to a picnic, learning from each other, laughing and feeling free to explore and demonstrate their knowledge, skills and attitudes for the purpose of improving. Were they not taking it seriously? Cytochrome P450 and conduction aberrancies sure sounded serious to me, as did the discussion of teamwork and leadership.

Sometimes I think we can easily take ourselves too seriously in the simulation world. While I would be the first to argue there are times to do just that, I am reminded that there are times when it is not the case. People seem to be so caught up in defining rules of how things should and shouldn’t be done in simulation encounters that sometimes I observe huge opportunities to find new and interesting ways in which we can engage learners in their prime. I think that these faculty members new their participants well and designed amazing learning opportunities for them that included some of the power of simulation.

After all, we are not trying to simulate reality, we are trying to use simulation to create a milieu that will enhance our ability to carry out learning and assessment objectives that will eventually influence the care that is delivered by the healthcare system.

It was a great day for me, simulation and especially for future patients!

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Great Debriefing Should Stimulate Active Reflection

shutterstock_284271476_aDebriefing in simulation as well as after clinical events is a common method of continuing the learning process through helping participants garner insight from their participation in the activity. It is postulated and I believe, part of the power of this “conversation” when call debriefing is when the participant engages in active reflection. The onus is on the debriefer to create an environment where active reflection occurs.

One of the most effective ways to achieve this goal is through questions. When participants are asked questions regarding the activity being debriefed it forces them to replay the scenario or activity in their mind. I find it helpful to begin with rather open-ended broader questions for two reasons. The first is to ensure the participant(s) are ready to proceed. Secondly asking broader questions at the beginning such as “Can you give me a recap of what you just experienced?” Helps to force the participant to think about the activity in a longitudinal way. Gradually the questions become much more specific to allow the participant to understand cause and effect relationships between their performance in the activity and the outcomes of the case.

Another thing to consider is that when debriefing multiple people simultaneously, when a recollection of the activity is being recalled by one participant, the other participants are actively thinking about their own recognition of said activity. Thus active reflection is again triggered. It is quite natural for the other participants to not only be thinking about the activity, but actively forming their own thoughts in a comparison/contrast type of cognitive activity. During this period they are comparing their own recollection of the activity with the one of the person answering the initial question.

Question should be focused in a way that the debriefer is controlling the conversation through a structured pathway that allows the learning objectives to be met. Further, when one develops good debriefing habits through the use of questioning it limits the possibility of the debriefing converting into a ”mini – lecture”.

I believe the Structured and Supported debriefing model created by my colleague Dr. John O’Donnell along with collaborators, provides the best framework by which to structure the debriefing. His use of the GAS mnemonic has effectively allowed the model to be introduced to both novice and expert debriefers alike and facilitate an easily learned structured framework into their debriefing work. We have been able to successfully introduce this model across many cultures and at least five different languages and have had significant success.

Worksheets, or job-aids with some example questions that parallel the learning objectives can be written on such tools prior to the scenario commencement. Supplementing the job aid with additional notes during the performance of the scenario can be helpful to recall the important points of discussion at the time of debriefing, and the preformed questions can serve as gentle reminders to the debriefer on topics that must be covered to achieve a successful learning outcome.

So a challenge to you is the next time you conduct a debriefing be thinking in the back of your mind how can I best force my participants to engage in active reflection of the activity that is bring debriefed. In addition, I would recommend that you practice debriefing as often as you can! Debriefing is an activity that improves over time with experience and deliberate practice.

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Feedback – More Than Just Debriefing


Too often in the designs of scenarios for simulation there is a lack of attention to the fact that there are many forms of feedback that occurs during a simulation than the debriefing. Debriefing is certainly an important part of any learning encounter, but in reality represents only one type of feedback.

As you think about sources of feedback I ask you to be both creative and attentive. I like to think of feedback in two broad categories, intrinsic and extrinsic. The latter being the more commonly thought of mechanisms such as debriefings, video reviews, and simulator log file reviews etc. with the former being the topic of this post.

What I find to be of significant interest as it related to the design of scenarios is the feedback that occurs intrinsically. That is clues, or changes that occur during the scenarios that are available to the participant to incorporate in their understanding of how their decisions, treatments, or lack thereof, are affecting the statues of the patient.

Many of you might be saying, what are you talking about???? Ha!!! Now on to my favorite part which is providing concrete examples to help explain myself further.  Let’s say you are simulating a pelvic fracture case with hypotension and shock. The vitals’ of the high technology simulator that you may be using for the case would likely show tachycardia and hypotension etc. Now lets say the participant(s) place a pelvic binding device and give a unit of blood. You may include changes in the vitals appearing on the monitor that indicated that there was mild to moderate improvement of the patient. Perhaps the tachycardia would decrease and the blood pressure may improve over a set period of time.

During the design process of the scenario many people may create the changes in the vitals thinking they are mimicking reality of what may occur.  More importantly I think those involved in the design of the scenario should realize that the changes in the vitals referred to above are a source of important intrinsic feedback. The participants should be able to make the observations and decide they are helping the patient to improve.

This can be powerful feedback that links together successful performance with particular behaviors or decisions that were made. It is self-discovery, it will help to guide further care and decisions if the scenario continues. If the designer of the scenarios recognizes this intrinsic feedback in the design phases, additional creative solutions can be implemented to reinforce the learning.

While my pelvic fracture example shows a positive change tin the patient based on correct actions, the converse example could be true if incorrect care is being rendered. Consider that if you have a heart attack case with hypotension and the patient is administered aspirin and nitroglycerin. You would likely worsen the shock from a physiological perspective. Seeing this change will provide intrinsic feedback to the learners(s).

This is not to say that it all has to do with fancy feedback from high technology simulators. The same could be accomplished with showing a worsening EKG on paper if treatment is incorrect or delayed, or conversely showing and improving EKG for the right treatment given within the appropriate time.

Approaching feedback from a deliberate perspective can be helpful in reinforcing learning. It should be recognized as a design tool and carefully integrated into the core deign of any scenario. Debriefing can be linked to these feedback areas in the scenario. This can provide valuable links or areas ripe for discussion to assist in accomplishing the learning objectives.

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Patient Centered Debriefing – The Ultimate Goal

I am growing more and more concerned about the pacifism by which I hear people approaching their debriefing efforts as I travel about the world. The phrase “safe learning environment” is being hijacked into some sort of process during which the only thing that matters in the world is the feelings of the learners participating in the simulations. So much so that some are saying you shouldn’t tell students what they didn’t do correctly and that during debriefing you should only focus on that which went well and then have a group hug at the end. This is being claimed under banners of student centric debriefing, “safe learning environments”.


Do these same educators harbor the fear and trepidation that students might be sad if they perform poorly on a written test? Do these same educators realize what a disservice they are doing for the students when you step back and look at the big picture?  Maybe the educators themselves have a tough time bucking up and delivering the news, doing the HARD WORK of simulation. Perhaps, this shifting or trending is partly evolving because many of the people involved in the teaching and theorizing about simulation feedback don’t see patients on the frontline of the healthcare battlefield.



I am certainly not advocating that we don’t need to be mindful of students emotions and psychological well being during simulation education activities, but come on people, healthcare decisions and actions involving patient care need to be near perfect. Every Time.  We need to be certain that when participants leave our simulations they have a clear understanding of what was right and what was wrong not just do a deep dive into their feelings carefully guarded by the emotions police and find happy things to chat about.



I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but providing healthcare is hard work, stressful and requires excellence. We need to develop/reinforce excellence in the participants of our simulations and help them achieve their goal, which is to get better at what they do. Every healthcare professional in the world has this as a goal at some level. How we reach out to them and help them along this journey needs to be PATIENT CENTRIC because the ultimate goal is to continuously improve healthcare throughout the world.


We certainly must develop methods consistent with the levels and abilities of our simulation participants and create environments that are open to participating, learning, exploring and discussion. But we also must provide participants with information on where they are with regards to expected performance on a continuum of the development of competence. We can not hide the truth during a debriefing because the faculty is uncomfortable with delivering critical feedback, or is so concerned that the students emotional fragility will be violated if they receive the feedback. This is a violation of our ultimate relationship with the ultimate beneficiary of healthcare simulation, the patient.



During debriefings it is incumbent upon us to make sure that students are treated fairly, treat each other fairly and help to discover things needed for improvement through creating reflections on the learning activities. We also need to make sure there is crystal clarity on expected outcomes versus perceptions of performance that are reconciled. We also must guide the debriefing process in a way that is mindful of the psychological safety of the involved. I think this can be done with adequate training, re-training and continuing practice with the art of debriefing. When we achieve this, we have arrived at Patient Centered Debriefing, and that’s a place I think we all want be.



I do believe most professionals want to know what they did well as well as what they didn’t. They are the fundamental elements of being able to reflect and improve. We need to be able to have the message delivered by either a process of self-discovery, perhaps through facilitated reflection, or at other times, but just directly providing the information. This doesn’t mean it has to be harsh, or without the feelings of the person involved carefully considered, but it does mean it has to happen with a level of deliberateness that is unequivocal. It is the true art of the debriefing to be able to lead this effort and achieve these goals.


Finally I’ll close with a quote from my twelve-year-old son about one of his baseball coaches, “Dad, why does coach always tell me I did a good job when I know I messed up?” What is the answer? Not sure, but I hope that the coach doesn’t change careers and become a simulation facilitator for healthcare professionals.



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