October 13, 2010

Simulation in Health Professional Education

By Chris Shaw, Pharm.D., PGY2 Emergency Medicine Pharmacy Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital
Passive versus active. “Chalk and talk” versus hands-on.  Educators and theorists have suggested that active learning and learner participation produce better educational outcomes than traditional, lecture-based teaching methods. Lecture, and other forms of simple information dispersion, may still be required depending on the content area and students’ prior knowledge. However, it is not until the learner is able to apply that information to a given situation, thereby linking the theory with practice that true understanding materializes. One method that can be used to achieve this linking is through the use of simulation.
Simulation training has been used for decades in military and aeronautics training with positive results. In the realm of healthcare, surgery simulation has been well described and simulation has been used extensively to train cardiopulmonary resuscitative techniques and emergency preparedness. A simple PubMed search will retrieve thousands of results for ‘simulation training.’ Formal simulation labs as well as medical and surgical simulation fellowships have been created at some of the top medical centers around the country, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Duke University Medical Center, Harvard, and The Mayo Clinic. The recently formed Society for Simulation in Healthcare, which publishes a peer-reviewed journal, is a forum for scholars interested in simulation technology and techniques. Simulation in the training of health professionals seems to have cemented itself in the culture of health professional education. Why is that? I believe the answer is that as health care professionals, we are always looking for ways to continually improve our knowledge and skills, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care and outcomes.
The initial and continual training of health professionals is an important factor that contributes to this goal. Human patient simulation (HPS), or “a technique to replace or amplify real patient experiences … which evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive manner,” is one method of active learning to help build and maintain skills. HPS is able to offer a method for putting theory into practice, while maintaining a non-threatening, safe environment for students to achieve competence through repetition.  HPS can be use to reproduce a variety of clinical scenarios. This is done with a wide margin for error as real patients are not put in harm’s way, illustrating the principle of risk minimization. For a list of additional pros and cons related to the use of medical simulation training, I refer you to a previous post on this blog.
HPS has been adopted by a number of pharmacy educators at schools and colleges of pharmacy in United States. There have been publications regarding the use of patient-simulation technology such as mannequins or computer programs to teach pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacokinetics, interdisciplinary team skills, advanced cardiac life support, and other topics in the pharmacy curriculum. The benefits of these simulations vary based upon the topic and simulation.
Does effective simulation require the use of expensive technologies? Why not use real people to simulate clinical situations? HPS can and often does utilize real humans. This may be one way for pharmacy programs to incorporate simulation into their curriculum if access to the simulation technologies is not an option.
In 1997, the World Health Organization published a report entitled “Preparing the Pharmacist of the Future: curricular development.” In this report, it was stated that as a communicator, the pharmacist “must be knowledgeable and confident while interacting with other health professionals and the public… communication skills involve verbal, non-verbal, listening, and writing skills.” How does this relate to simulation? The enhancement of communication skills through simulation is commonplace in pharmacy education.
HPS using humans in lieu of available technologies is a technique that has been adopted by many schools of pharmacy, including where I graduated, Northeastern University (NU), where we frequently use simulation for patient counseling. Actors would be brought in to serve as standardized patients, and different scenarios were put forth during class sessions. Students would be required to develop and deliver educational material, counsel the patients about their diagnoses and medication regimens, and answer questions. The questions posed were a combination of what had been prepared by the facilitators of the course and provided to the actors, as well as questions the actors improvised.  This added another level of complexity to the interaction. Simulation exposed us to different scenarios, enhanced our critical thinking, and provided an opportunity to practice the management of a patient encounter.  An advanced understanding of and ability to apply all the material involved in real-time was required. But most importantly, it was a way for us to link our didactic education with practice, prior to actually stepping foot in a real practice environment during clinical rotations.
Further exploration of a variety of simulation techniques should be promoted in pharmacy education. The study of both technology and human-based simulations should evolve, with the ultimate goal of producing and identifying methods to most effectively prepare tomorrow’s pharmacy professionals. Although I’ve had only  limited personal experience with simulation training, I felt much more comfortable and confident going into the “real” clinical setting. It was still a scary prospect going in out on rotations, but it was made exponentially easier as I had my prior experiences built through simulation to fall back on.

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Mesquita AR, Lyra Jr DP, Brito GC, Balisa-Rocha BJ, Aguiar PM, Neto ACA. Developing communication skills in pharmacy: a systematic review of the use of simulated patient methods. Patient Educ Couns. 2010; 78: 143-148.
Haidar E. Clinical simulation: a better way of learning? Nurs Manag. 2009; 16(5): 22-23.

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