Three Lessons From a Simulation Lab

A well-connected mom faces a medical crisis while giving birth to a very tech-savvy baby. No worries, though. Both patients are high-tech mannequins, virtually complete with body fluids.

They’re bit players at Baptist Health Patient Safety Simulation Lab, a theater where medical teamwork is rehearsed and performed. The Simulation Lab was launched in 2011 with funding provided by Baptist Health Foundation’s Young Philanthropists. This approach to crisis management is borrowed from the aviation industry, which designed simulation programs to improve safety standards in the airline industry.

“Crisis resource management is about high-performing teams,” said obstetrician-gynecologist Vicky Lopez-Beecham, M.D. medical director of the lab. “Simulation drills have become a best practice. And when a crisis happens the medical team is ready with well-rehearsed procedures and communication systems.” 

I recently attended a simulation drill and was impressed with the real-time, real-life lessons offered by the process. The drill I witnessed involved a cardiac surgery team in an operating room at Baptist Hospital. The team dealt with a mannequin who went into distress, complete with a plunging blood pressure, during heart surgery. I am not a cardiac surgeon or registered nurse, but many of the teamwork lessons are applicable to any life situation:  

  • Use all available information: “Integrate all data to form a mental picture,” Dr. Lopez-Beecham told the drill participants.”Seek out information that does not fit your picture.” Cross-checking and repeat re-evaluations are valuable to accuracy and safety, especially during a shifting crisis. 
  • Life Lesson #1: Collect details. Whether I am meeting with my child’s teacher or addressing an inaccurate cable bill, I need to gather facts in order to complete tasks with accuracy, efficiency and integrity. 

  • Use cognitive aids:  Check lists were a valuable part of the cardiac surgery drill that I witnessed at Baptist Hospital. The various check lists included boxes to check off:  confirmation of the patient’s identity, site for the procedure, consent, allergies, and the required safety checks for anesthesia — to name a few.  
  • Life Lesson #2: Are you planning a trip overseas or to the supermarket? A check list can help you avoid wasting fuel, energy or time by reminding you to pack vital documents, such as your passport or credit cards.  “Check lists ensure the correct steps are taken, with nothing missed or forgotten,” Dr. Lopez-Beecham said.  

  • Practice teamwork: Respectful and responsible communications are crucial for every member of the team, who all share responsibility for patient safety. In a medical setting, especially during a crisis, dialogue should be specific, pertinent and timely with each staff member feeling empowered to address safety concerns with the entire team.  
  • Life Lesson #3: Personally and professionally, we’re all members of several teams. The home team, for example, may face the challenge of moving to a new home, including the chore of safely moving fragile pieces from one location to the next.

    “Don’t hint and hope,” Dr. Lopez-Beecham. “Address people directly; acknowledge what is heard and confirm completed tasks.”

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