Over 74 per cent of adverse events in health settings relate to poor communication. This illuminating statistic suggests that with the right kind of training environment, health professionals of all kinds could benefit from a new kind of education based on communication, teamwork and leadership skills. 

Led by the Associate Dean of Health, Professor Cobie Rudd, the ECU Health Simulation Centre at Edith Cowan University was funded by the University and launched in 2007. It was developed after extensive consultations with key figures in simulation including Dr Brendan Flanagan, as well as consultations with the student body. These consultations revealed that not only did students want their competency and confidence as high as it could be, but that this training would serve them well after graduation. Using the above statistic as a catalyst, ECU set out to give their students a ‘soft landing’ and to develop the future capacity of their partners in a totally new training environment.

 

Good planning means great outcomes

In planning the Centre, assessing problems of the health system was a major springboard for ideas. A key part of this was to design immersive, flexible settings that were as true to the actual clinical environments as possible. Thus all kinds of situations can be recreated, ranging from dealing with aggression in general practice to mental health presentations in a range of settings to forensic investigations in emergency departments.

 

A totally simulated experience

The facility includes three fully contained simulation suites, each with its own debriefing room, control room and observation area. This design means that no-one leaves the suite until their debrief, which allows the Centre to run different types of simulations concurrently. High-risk situations are also simulated, including drug and alcohol-related violence, large-scale trauma and triage and obstetric emergencies. 

Aiming to embed simulation across all health curricula involves a highly creative approach. The ECU team includes a full range of health professionals, and the Centre hires actors to add extra authenticity to the scenarios, which are also based on real cases. 

Professor Rudd points out that even negative outcomes can be used to ultimately produce a positive result. “We can improve outcomes in the future if we draw on real-life adverse events or near misses for the basis of de-identified scenarios that are ‘played out’ in a safe, yet authentic simulated learning environment.”

The evidence-based approach

The Centre benefits a broad range of the University’s industry partners across the state, and in doing so has attracted a lot of interest from unexpected areas. The Corruption and Crime Commission in WA wants to learn more about the Centre’s work on violence and emergency department treatment, and risk managers in the higher education sector and insurance companies want information on the ECU’s scenario-based learning approach to improve communication within teams and organisations.

Addressing this keen industry interest, Professor Rudd says: “We’ve asked what consumers and students have to say, and what’s the solution. We did the research and looked at what simulation could do. We piloted it, it worked really well and we’ve built on that. We feel we’re coming at it in a different way, and adding value because we’re not duplicating what other people are doing.”