Human patient simulation is rapidly becoming a popular method of teaching medicine in EMS and other allied healthcare fields. An article published recently in Critical Care Medicine lends support to the value of simulation-based learning.1
Thirty-one students enrolled in a weeklong acute-care course at a U.S. medical school were randomly assigned to either a full-scale simulation (SIM) or interactive problem-based learning (PBL) group. On Day 1, all subjects underwent a simulator-based initial assessment designed to evaluate their critical care skills. After that, the PBL group studied dyspnea in a standard PBL format, while the SIM group learned about dyspnea using a simulator. To allow equal time, the groups were reversed and the PBL group studied acute abdominal pain using a simulator, while the SIM group used the PBL format. The study concluded that, for those students, simulation-based training was superior to problem-based learning for acquiring critical assessment and management skills.
"The new push in education is in developing critical thinking," says Baxter Larmon, PhD, MICP, director of the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care in Los Angeles. "In EMS, we have people with knowledge and skills who don't necessarily know how and when to put those things together. The concept of critical thinking is allowing people to be able to process information, and the primary way of doing that in this new genre of education is by developing problem-based learning. There are two ways to do this: case studies and simulation."
The new, high-end simulators have a pulse, blood pressure, respirations and neurologic features, says Larmon. "The advantage of a simulator over a real person is that you can't make a person stop breathing; you can't intubate him; and you probably shouldn't start an IV on a mock patient," he adds.
Steadman RH, Coates WC, Huang YM, et al. Simulation-based training is superior to problem-based learning for the acquisition of critical assessment and management skills. Crit Care Med 34(1):151-156, 2006.