Using Medical Simulation to Build High-Performance Teams

In this article, our colleagues at Laerdal Medical share how healthcare organizations are using medical simulation to build high performance teams. Organizations who are leaders in delivering safe, patient-centered care have something in common –they all emphasize the importance of creating great teams. In healthcare, these teams are comprised of thousands of doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and others. Even though each member comes equipped with vastly different skill sets and training, they must come together each day to save lives. In U.S. hospitals, preventable medical error accounts for an estimated 250,000 patient deaths and over 1 million injuries annually. And, many of these cases are caused by a breakdown in teamwork and communication. This is why the best teams are using simulation to focus on developing teamwork skills, rather than just individual skills. To help support your organization’s patient safety initiatives, below are some trends we’ve noticed in healthcare simulation:

1. Multidisciplinary team training is just starting to enter the healthcare curriculum. In response to recent patient harm statistics, leading medical schools are revamping their programs to teach doctors the importance of teamwork. At the same time, many nursing schools are beginning to integrate Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN), which focuses on teamwork and collaboration, into their nursing simulation curricula. Research shows that multidisciplinary team training leads to better teamwork and communication, especially in emergency situations.

2. Multidisciplinary teams don’t have to be permanently assigned to be great teams. Traditional team training in healthcare assumes that teams must train together to achieve high performance. That can be quite impractical because of rotating schedules, the nature of each case, and soon. And, regardless, patient harm data shows that a team of experts does not automatically make an expert team. Organizations that build great teams approach the problem by focusing on cognitive and interpersonal competencies. They train their staff in team “systems” like TeamSTEPPS, Crew Resource Management(CRM), or ones they have developed themselves. With these skills, no matter the combination of people assigned to a patient case, the team can come together with ease.


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3. Simulation is a proven means for improving team performance and patient outcomes. The healthcare industry is still relatively new to using simulation to improve team performance. Aviation and the military have long used simulation as a prerequisite to building effective teams. In these sectors, the evidence has clearly indicated that simulation leads to improved team effectiveness, better outcomes, and reduced risk. Studies conducted among healthcare facilities reflect similar results. Research shows that simulation training contributes to significant changes in teamwork behaviors, processes, and/or the team’s ability to respond to emergencies. Supporting studies demonstrate that patient outcomes are also positively influenced by simulation training. In this context, simulation affords benefits that didactic learning simply can’t deliver.

4. Focus on the simulation, not the simulator. Based on our customer experience, the path to success is to focus first on your training and education objectives – not on which simulator to choose.In situations where your primary objective is to ensure that learners are confident applying communications and teamwork tools, an advanced simulator may not add to the experience. Many times, we’ve seen great team training occur using a basic manikin or task trainer. If, however, you want learners to experience applying their newfound communication skills in a real world setting complete with patient responses, a high-fidelity simulator is essential. What it boils down to is this: allow your desired result to determine your choice of simulator, not the other way around.

5. In situ simulation can make your success greater. In situ simulation, or simulation conducted on location in your team’s own care setting, is an ideal environment for systems training. Learners can review and reinforce their problem-solving skills, while simultaneously identifying hazards in their systems. In situ simulation promotes training efficiency by utilizing staff while they are on duty, without the need to schedule training days. And, it can be conducted with minimal resources and investment. Aside from being an accessible option, looking at problems from an in-situ perspective can help you achieve the results you want in the very place where you want the learning applied.

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