Sunday, 26 July 2015

When the equipment fails...

On 18th July 2015 Martin Bromiley tweeted:

The implication is that one should not pretend that something hasn't failed in a sim session. There are a few points for reflection here.

1) There are considerable differences between aviation and healthcare sim

Airline pilots have much more exposure to simulation than the average healthcare worker, this means that equipment failure in aviation sim can be addressed by rescheduling the session. This is not normally the case in healthcare where a given participant may only be able to take part in a sim session every three years.
Aviation sims are much better funded than healthcare sims. In healthcare the use of out-of-date drugs and second-hand equipment is the norm. Equipment failure is therefore more likely in healthcare.
Healthcare sims also tend to involve the use of a plethora of equipment from different manufacturers and "cobbled-together" pieces of kit such as a simulated blood gas machine or a simulated X-ray machine. These are more likely to fail than bespoke flight simulators.
The bottom line? Aviation sims are less likely to fail and when they do, the ability to reschedule a sim session means that equipment failures can be "explored" to see how the participants cope with an unexpected problem.

2) There are different types of equipment failures

One of the most common types of failure in (mannequin-based) simulation is the mannequin itself. Loss of power or communications with the controlling device can mean the mannequin "dies". Other equipment failures may mean that, for example, one cannot feel a pulse on one arm, or that the pupils don't dilate, or that the simulated blood gas machine stops working. The faculty response to each of these equipment failures will be different and this brings us on to point 3.

3) Response to equipment failure depends on the type of failure, faculty experience, the scenario and your learners

If we take sudden mannequin failure as an example, and three different scenarios:
  1. Patient in septic shock, hypoxic, hypotensive and moribund
  2. Patient with life-threatening asthma, silent chest and tiring
  3. Patient about to undergo elective surgery for laparoscopic cholecystectomy, chatting to anaesthetist
In the first two it would seem reasonable to continue the scenario, with a pulseless, lifeless patient while you try to re-establish connection to the mannequin (or plug him back in). In the third scenario, it would be best to interrupt the scenario, acknowledge a technical issue and fix it.

Of course, this still doesn't cover the "pretend it hasn't failed" situation. Imagine a home-made "X-ray machine" which displays an X-ray at the touch of a button. However, when the confederate radiographer goes to display the X-ray nothing happens. One option would be to get the participants to decide what they would do in such a situation in real life, e.g. get another X-ray machine, continue on clinical judgment, auscultate chest, ultrasound, etc.. Another option would be to "pretend it hasn't failed" with the confederate providing them with a hard-copy of the X-ray. This latter option may be particularly apt if the rest of the scenario depends on the ability of the participants to correctly interpret the X-ray.

Final thoughts

This post should not come across as a carte blanche to make up for poor equipment maintenance or scenario planning. The "pretend it hasn't failed" response should be rare and limited to minor failures which will not throw the participants out of the simulated reality you have created for them (e.g. "I wasn't sure when he stopped breathing that he had really stopped or that you wanted us to pretend that he hadn't.") "Pretend it hasn't failed" is not the correct wording even when that is what you want the participants to do; well-trained faculty and confederates will be able to sculpt the scenario so that the equipment failure is quickly forgotten. "Pretend it hasn't failed" is also not the correct response when you are carrying out in situ systems-testing; the participants should deal with this as they would in real life. Lastly, if it's a course and the scenario learning objectives can still be achieved when the equipment has failed then, by all means, the participants should be allowed to develop their own solution to the problem. As faculty experience (and expertise) increases, one will become better at predicting the likely consequences of a failure and the best response.

1 comment:

  1. From my perspective, If something fails-at the time try and feed the info in without breaking the fidelity bubble (if you can't you can't and I think the confederate needs to apologise and give the info). Then when it comes to debrief acknowledge it and try and get everyone to agree to put it to the side. If it has fundamentally affected the way that the participants have acted and reacted in the simulation you need to pay more attention to making sure you smooth it out in the debrief. Then you have a choice of whether to use the event for learning (e.g. have you ever seen a situation when x,y,z has broken etc etc)-whether you use it or not depends on how effectively you have dealt with it as a sim artefact