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September 23, 2020

Five reasons to adopt more simulation learning in health and health care

Shari Furniss
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Exploring the benefits of simulation methods in workplace learning

I was standing in the corner of the room, trying to figure out where to stay out of the way as a medical team rushed to help a patient who had accidentally been given an overdose of medication. The overdose was potentially reversible, but the patient had a DNR (do not resuscitate) order on file. As the seconds ticked away, the medical team debated the ethics of what to do. Revive? Follow the DNR? It was an emotionally charged scene, waiting to see if the patient would live or die based on the decisions the team made.

It’s these types of life-and-death situations that really stress the importance of training. But is there a way to build the skills needed for real-life situations when a patient’s life isn’t on the line?

Image source: CMS

1.      Simulation learning safely prepares learners with experiential learning when the stakes are high but with no patient risk

Thankfully, that situation wasn’t real – and the patient wasn’t a person but a high-tech dummy. The heart-pounding scenario was just another day of training at the Center for Medical Simulation (CMS) in Boston, Massachusetts.  The CMS is a world-leader in using simulation methods in medical education. Their vision is “experiential healthcare learning that never puts a patient at risk” and their program is designed to address one of the greatest challenges in learning – how can you safely prepare people to perform well when the stakes are high? In an intense week-long course, I joined an international group of educators in learning how to develop simulation training.

2.      Simulation methods outperform traditional methods in how quickly people learn, how much information they retain, and how capable they are to practice skills

Simulation methods have been used for decades, particularly in physician training because they’re effective for developing skills, particularly those used under stressful conditions. Some research has found that simulation methods can outperform traditional approaches in how quickly people learn, how much information they can retain, and how capable they are to practice the skills (Impact and implementation of simulation-based training for safety, Scientific World Journal, 2013). But the uptake of this methodology is still limited. There is huge potential in using simulation to support our learners in the workplace – especially for when the stakes are high.

3.      Simulation training is showing great potential in many sectors in many workplaces

The benefits of simulation training have been embraced by many high-risk industries, particularly medical, military, and aviation training. But other professions are also seeing the potential, like musicians, who have the stressful job of performing in public. While the hours of practice most certainly help, researchers wondered if simulation could help prepare them for being on stage. They tested their theory by creating a virtual audience, as well as an audition simulation with “expert” virtual judges. The results of the study showed that the realistic simulated experience helped reduce stress and improve performance in front of a real audience.

Simulation learning can be a great way to better support learning and help people achieve higher performance with less stress.

While this was just one study, it shows great opportunities for workplace learning. Every day we ask people to do things that might not be dangerous but can certainly feel stressful. Could simulation training be a way of better supporting the learning and helping people achieve higher performance?

4.      Simulation methods bridge the gap between learning and doing

In the workplace, we often learn so that we can do. Simulation methods help bridge the wide – and often overwhelming – gap between learning and doing. We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect” but realistic practice – the kind you get through simulation –  is what really improves performance.

5.      Simulation learning in clinical quality improvement

At the SaskatchewanHealth Quality Council, we’ve been experimenting with ways to incorporate simulation-based learning into our programs.

In fact, simulation training is a significant part of the curriculum design of the Clinical Quality Improvement Program (CQIP), a 10 month training program for clinicians in Saskatchewan.

For example, instead of just discussing teamwork theories, participants get to put them into action with the Maze Game. To get all team members to the end of the maze before the time runs out, they have to work together, hone their communication skills, and learn from past mistakes.

Similarly, the Elevator Pitch helps learners refine their engagement strategy by role playing a two-minute conversation with a key stakeholder. Whether by creating an operational definition for a banana that can be consistently measured by all teams, or creating a driver diagram for effective meetings, participants have an authentic learning experience that more easily translates the theory to action.

Are you a clinician interested in hands-on applied learning in quality improvement methodologies? Learn more about the Clinical Quality Improvement Program.