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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 4-12

Strategic approaches to simulation-based education: A case study from Australia

1 Department of Medical Education, Simulation Education in Healthcare, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
2 Clinical Skills Development Service, Health Service and Clinical Innovation Division, Queensland Health, Queensland, Australia
3 Health Professions Education and Educational Research, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
4 Gippsland Medical School, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
5 Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Michigan Medical School, Michigan, USA

Date of Web Publication17-Apr-2013

Correspondence Address:
Debra Nestel
Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, School of Rural Health and Health PEER, Building 13 C, Monash University, VIC, 3800
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DOI: 10.4103/1658-600X.110666

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This paper addresses some of the challenges met when developing widely distributed, broad spectrum, simulation-based education (SBE) for health professionals, such as resource duplication, inconsistent facilities utilization, discipline-specific silos, and the intersection of academic institutions and health services sectors. We examine three primary contributors to successful simulation-based practices - strategic planning, program development, and professional networks. Further, we provide examples of how each of these contributors function at different levels to assure comprehensive, yet sustainable approaches to implementing SBE for greatest impact at national, state, regional, and institutional levels. We draw on the example of Australia and its state and regional government structures, including the challenges in providing health services across a widely variable geography and population distribution. The types of health services and issues relating to health provision and management reflect those found in many western countries. Our hope is that the experiences gained at each level of governance within Australia may inform similar, successful development in other countries. We emphasize the importance of leadership and investment at the national level that serves to inform state, regional, and institutional efforts through a "trickle down" effect. Although evaluation of the strategic planning, program development, and professional networks described in this case study is still ongoing, their preliminary coordination has resulted in significant investment and support at all levels.

Keywords: Simulation-based education, strategic planning, Australian health, healthcare

How to cite this article:
Nestel D, Watson MO, Bearman ML, Morrison T, Pritchard SA, Andreatta PB. Strategic approaches to simulation-based education: A case study from Australia. J Health Spec 2013;1:4-12

How to cite this URL:
Nestel D, Watson MO, Bearman ML, Morrison T, Pritchard SA, Andreatta PB. Strategic approaches to simulation-based education: A case study from Australia. J Health Spec [serial online] 2013 [cited 2021 Jan 25];1:4-12. Available from: https://www.thejhs.org/text.asp?2013/1/1/4/110666

  Introduction Top

Simulation-based education (SBE) in healthcare is driven by ethical imperatives including reducing iatrogenic injury to patients and an increasing focus on quality and safety. [1] Additional drivers include the expanding numbers of health professional students and graduates concomitant with limitations on work time, a shift to competency-based education, and growing evidence supporting SBE as a strategic instructional approach. [1] Healthcare SBE has a long history that includes the use of tactile models and simulated (standardized) patients, [2],[3],[4],[5],[6] however, significant developments in computer-driven technologies such as task trainers, manikin simulators, and virtual environments [7],[8] have expanded its uses across all health professions. To facilitate SBE, health services and academic institutions around the world have established infrastructure in the form of skills labs, simulated clinical settings, and mobile training spaces. Professional and regulatory organizations have begun to accept time spent performing simulation-based practice as a proxy for some clinical placements [9],[10],[11],[12] and to provide credentialing for simulation-based operative skills. [13],[14] SBE has also emerged as an essential method for supporting inter-professional and team-based culture. [15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21]

In some cases, the rapid acceptance of healthcare SBE has led to a lack of coordination within and between health services, educational providers, and local and national governments. This, in turn, has resulted in inefficient simulator procurement and maintenance processes, as well as the duplication of activities. Further, although investment in infrastructure and equipment supporting SBE is necessary, the value of SBE is unrealizable without skilled educators and technicians. [10],[22],[23],[24] Academic programs and courses focusing on specific aspects of SBE (e.g., debriefing, scenario design, modeling, etc.), healthcare simulation conferences, other programs, [25],[26],[27],[28] and professional networks for simulation specialists [29] are burgeoning parallel developments to support this need. [23],[30],[31] Coordinated approaches to the development, implementation, and evaluation of healthcare SBE may lead to physical and human resource efficiencies, higher quality simulation practices, and improved outcomes for patients and care providers.

In this paper, we describe strategic approaches to investing in healthcare simulation across higher education and the health service sector, including strategic planning, programs, and professional networks. We draw on our experiences in Australia, in particular the role of a national health workforce organization. First, we describe contextual factors of Australia and its healthcare services. Second, we consider strategic planning at the national level by describing Health Workforce Australia (HWA), two related national programs that strategically invest in faculty development, and one professional association. Third, we move to state/territory strategic plans to consider two programs - the Queensland model for distribution and support of simulators and human resources and the Victorian Simulated Patient Network (VSPN) - and describe the Victorian Simulation Alliance (VSA) professional network. Fourth, we acknowledge the regional level strategic plans of the Gippsland Healthcare Simulation Network (GHSN), and fifth, review institutional policies from Monash University (Melbourne). These five approaches are outlined in [Table 1]. The examples are dynamic and as each matures they may take a different orientation. For example, the VSPN may take on planning and policy roles and further develop its professional association role. So the boundaries are somewhat artificial and arbitrary but seek to illustrate a coordinated approach to healthcare simulation.
Table 1: Examples of policies, programs and professional associations in strategic approaches to SBE

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The Australian healthcare context

Australia is the sixth largest country by land covering over 7.5 million square kilometers, almost the size of the USA and twice that of Western Europe. [32],[33] In 2012, the estimated population exceeded 22.5 million and the median age was 37.1 years. [34] The Common wealth of Australia was formed in 1901 to become two territories and six states [Figure 1]. The Federal and State governments pass legislation, whereas local governments oversee community services. [35]
Figure 1: Australia with states and territories indicated together with the local and regional sites described in this paper. The map was sourced from MapsForDesign.com and adapted for our purposes

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Health service and access

Australia provides a nationwide public health insurance scheme, Medicare, funded by a 1.5% levy to tax payers. All residents can access Medicare, which offers free or subsidized treatment by various medical, optical, dental, and allied health practitioners. Australian residents also receive free public hospital care. Private health insurance is also available, which provides reimbursements for other practitioners, [36] and thus greater access health services. Statistics reporting the usage of health services in 2009 for persons over age 15 are included in [Table 2]. [37]
Table 2: Health services usage for persons over age 15 during 2009

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Health issues

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare identified the National Health Priority Areas (NHPAs) as diseases and conditions known to have the greatest burden for individuals and society, and where large potentials exist for health gains. [38] The NHPAs include: arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, asthma, cancer control, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, injury prevention and control, mental health, and obesity. [38] In 2010, the five main causes of death in Australia were cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. [36]

Health workforce

In 2006, 360,400 individuals were employed in the Australian health workforce, representing 3.5% of the total Australian workforce. This number is predicted to increase by an average of 1.7% annually, with 409,300 Australians expected to be employed in the health workforce in 2018. [39]

  National Level Top

HWA - strategic planning

HWA was established "to meet the future challenges of providing a health workforce that responds to the needs of the Australian community" [40] under the Council of Australian Governments. It is federally funded but reports to the state government representatives. Like most Australian bureaucracies, HWA faces the challenge of ensuring equity within a nation that has the majority of the population centered in major coastal cities, yet has a huge geographical area. In addition, it has a broad focus, including issues such as enhancing clinical training, workforce planning analyses, and supporting the role of international health professionals. Its aims are to achieve self-sufficiency in the health workforce by 2025. [41],[42] HWA contributed AU$ 93 million to enhancing SBE within Australia with a view to improving health workforce development as part of its "clinical training reform" program. [43] In 2010, HWA contracted investigations of health professional curricula at medical and nursing schools with the purpose of identifying current and future uses of SBE. The reports indicated that a key issue was insufficiently trained faculty to maximize the benefit of SBE. [44]

The Australian Simulation Educator and Technician Training (AusSETT) program

HWA funded a consortium of Australian organizations to develop a national train-the-trainer program for simulation educators and technicians in order to develop faculty who are competent in facilitating SBE. [45] The resulting AusSETT Program aimed to provide experienced simulation educators and technicians with a curriculum and skillset to train others. The AusSETT Program was designed for those who worked with every form and level of health professional across Australia. HWA planned for these educators to support additional training for 6,000 further educators in local contexts through a separately funded program.

The consortium members responsible for designing the AusSETT Program drew from four states and included some of the most prominent simulation and educational research groups in the country. The consortium designed a curriculum with two key features. First, the Program emphasized educational principles with explicit links to the published literature. Second, the Program explored the uses of various simulation modalities, including manikin-simulators, task trainers, simulated patients (SPs), and virtual environments. Instruction was facilitated through workshops and e-learning components. This approach ensured that AusSETT addressed the needs of diverse environments. The Program was free for participants and local HWA networks in the states and territories nominated participants. Between December 2011 and September 2012, 230 participants completed all AusSETT Program requirements.

The National Health Education and Training in Simulation Program (NHET-Sim Program)

The NHET Program is the next phase of this workforce investment, with aims to train 6,000 SBE instructors by the middle of 2014. [46] Monash University is leading the NHET-Sim Program and has factored lessons learnt from the AusSETT Program into the program design. Specifically, the program was designed for entry-level experience, which includes local faculty co-teach in the program to improve contextual relevance and sustainability, and a fully online e-learning option to improve access to remote participants and busy clinicians. Seventy-five percent of participants will complete instruction through workshops and e-learning; 25% will participate using e-learning only. The NHET-Sim Program is free for participants. Applicants must intend to use SBE to support the development of healthcare students and professionals.

The NHET-Sim Program consists of approximately 24 instructional hours completed over 3 months. Two core modules provide a foundation in simulation modalities, and eight elective modules allow learners to select relevant content for their respective roles [Table 3]. AusSETT alumni may apply to become NHET-Sim faculty, co-teaching with AusSETT faculty before teaching independently. Any organization supporting simulation is eligible to host NHET-Sim.
Table 3: The modules in the NHET-Sim program

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NHET-Sim represents a significant investment in the skills of simulation educators across Australia; however, there are major logistical challenges associated with rapidly coordinating training for numerous participants, faculty, and host facilities. Although enthusiasm is very high, it is critical for the NHET-Sim faculty to track the impact of the program on observable health practices to substantiate continued government investment in this type of national program.

Australian Society for Simulation in Healthcare (ASSH) - professional association

ASSH was established in April 2007 for the professional healthcare simulation community, [47] with a major goal to lobby government on healthcare simulation. ASSH has over 400 members and is aligned with Simulation Australia, a wider industry-based advocate, both of which indicate the emergence of a mature professional simulation community at a national level. ASSH has links with other national societies, but also hosts an annual conference and is a member of the Global Network for Healthcare Simulation, thus positioning the national simulation community in an international arena. ASSH serves as a networking resource for members, created a directory of simulation resources, "SimNet." with HWA funding [48] and is developing standards for simulation educators and programs.

  State Level Top

Victorian Simulation Strategy, Department of Health (DOH) - strategic planning

The state of Victoria is located in the southeastern part of mainland Australia and has a population of over 5.6 million [34] [Figure 1]. In October 2011, the DoH published a strategy document for the development of SBE and training, [49] delineating priorities in three broad categories: management and organization, capacity and quality, and innovation and capability. The impetus for the strategy was to provide high quality educational opportunities while addressing the demands on clinical placements of entry-level professional trainees. The strategy aligns with other clinical placement initiatives and also acknowledges the role of SBE across the professional life span. In 2010, the DoH commissioned a study on existing simulation infrastructure specifically examining the type, capability, and use of simulators. Infrastructure was found to be sufficient although not fully utilized. Barriers to uptake included insufficient staffing and capability while governance issues between health services and education providers complicated or prevented sharing of resources. Coordination of all resources was strongly recommended.

Clinical Skills Development Service (CSDS), Queensland program

Queensland is the second largest state, encompassing approximately 1.7 million square kilometers of land in northeast Australia. Nine of the ten fastest growing local government areas are located along the coast, with seven of these located in the southeast of the state. The Queensland Health CSDS [50] provides integrated support facilitating local delivery of SBE. The CSDS includes an educational "hub" at a central location (3,600 m 2 ) with 28 training rooms, as well as extensive online programs, and databases managing over 1,500 items of simulation equipment. The "hub" provides high throughput of standardized clinical courses for Queensland Health and external organizations (e.g. professional colleges). Many CSDS programs reduce workshop time through e-learning adjuncts that allow pre-learning by participants before attendance. The hub also supports smaller hospital-based simulation centers that deliver standardized clinical courses and local solutions to local challenges. These are complemented by "in situ" programs using mobile simulations or simulations embedded in clinical facilities. As these facilities are locally owned and staffed, the term "pocket" simulation site has arisen to describe the CSDS resources (simulation skills training, curriculum, simulators, and audiovisual) that are available to these sites. "Pocket" in situ simulations can be tailored to local needs, provide greater access for most clinicians, and afford higher contextual fidelity than can be produced in a simulation center.

The function of CSDS is to increase clinical skills development by optimizing access to high quality training opportunities. Their model of delivery is based on seven core functions [Table 4] designed to optimize economies of a scale. The focus is on developing the right support processes, governance, and technologies to distribute instructional programs, while reducing overhead and duplications. This includes developing the right curricular activities, conducting train-the-trainer programs to provide skilled simulation educators, ensuring simulators are available for the right training, coordinating with health systems to target and increase training opportunities, and supporting simulation sites through a distributed model. The costs associated with constructing a simulation center are substantially greater than are required for setting up a "pocket" in situ site, yet the 35 "pocket" sites supported by CSDS conduct more simulations between them than does the hub. Cost-effective and efficient methods for distributing SBE, that retains local flexibility along with consistently high quality, will be critical to the expansion of healthcare simulation.
Table 4: The functions and deliverables of the CSDS

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The VSPN, Victoria program

The VSPN [51] is an online network for people interested in SP methodology. Funded by HWA through the Victorian DoH, the VSPN website is also a repository of resources accessible to teachers, clinicians, program administrators, and SPs. Established in 2012 and led by Monash University, in collaboration with Holmesglen Institute and Southern Health, the VSPN aims to:

  • Develop a sustainable statewide network for faculty in SP methodology
  • Provide high quality resources in SP methodology
  • Expand SP-based education across the state
  • Increase the number of simulation educators through SPs
  • Improve education in patient-centered care across the state.
The website contains modules on various aspects of SP work [Table 5]. Modules include a variety of resources such as illustrations of SPs at work, scenarios, educational frameworks to support SP-based education, and links to key publications. The e-learning modules are accessible to anyone who registers and are free of charge. Each module is designed to take participants 2 hours and there is no formal assessment.
Table 5: The modules in the VSPN

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The VSA - professional association

In 2012, a small group of simulation enthusiasts founded the VSA. The VSA is modeled on the Bay Area Simulation Collaborative [30] and seeks to "create an environment that fosters collegiality, collaboration, networking and sharing among those engaged in health professional simulation and research". [52] This mission will be achieved by:

  • Creating a cohesive voice and a common language
  • Facilitating professional development and education
  • Information dissemination
  • Identifying best practices
  • Developing and sharing scenarios
  • Fostering collaboration and partnerships
  • Facilitating inter-organizational research
  • Standard and policy setting
  • Identifying opportunities and lobbying for funding
  • Linking internationally. [52]
Membership to the VSA offers benefits such as newsletters, links to useful simulation resources, interactive forums, and symposiums. The VSA intends to provide a database of peer-reviewed simulation scenarios that will be accessible to members.

  Regional Level Top

GHSN - strategic planning

Gippsland is located in southeastern Victoria and covers approximately 41,000 square kilometers. [53] In 2011, the population was over 240,000 and is characterized by the linear distribution of six towns along a main highway, each with populations between 11,000 and 20,000. [54] In 2010, a new rural medical school hosted a regional meeting of simulation enthusiasts, health service managers, directors of clinical training, and other education providers. The GHSN was an outcome of the meeting and aims to support a regional approach to SBE to ensure co-ordination and promote continuity of learning for medicine, nursing, and allied health and social care professionals. The GHSN also aims to use simulation to achieve the highest quality service delivery, address patient safety, increase clinical placements, and provide exceptional training. The GHSN works closely with the local HWA agency. The GHSN is developing governance structures to achieve efficiencies through economies of scale, while increasing access to shared simulation resources by students and practitioners. Developing a SBE culture and research is core to the strategy. The GHSN believes that it can contribute to improving the quality of health and social care, education and training, and retention of the health workforce. The GHSN has systematically reviewed current and future needs of medical, nursing, allied health and social care professionals and trainees, raised awareness of SBE throughout the region, learned from the experiences of other statewide and regional approaches, and developed their simulation strategy through wide stakeholder consultation. The GHSN will increasingly shift from a planning and policy role toward the professional association emphasis.

  Institutional Level Top

Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences (FMNHS), Monash University simulation strategy - strategic planning

In 2010, Monash University employed nearly 1,900 full-time equivalent staff members to serve 7,617 full-time equivalent students studying courses in FMNHS. The faculty is organized into 10 schools and several institutes that comprise multiple departments and centers, distributed across six Victorian and three international campuses. [55] In 2011, the Dean of the FMNHS commissioned development of a simulation strategy to have faculty wide application. Drivers included potential funding opportunities alongside anecdotal reports of duplication, poorly stipulated, and inconsistent utilization of SBE resources. The resulting strategic plan included a coordinated approach to SBE with integrated and shared practices wherever possible, provision of the highest quality SBE, positioning of the FMNHS as a leader in SBE, and development of a sustainable model of excellence. Where possible, the FMNHS strategy was aligned and/or complemented resources at healthcare services. Limited resources and the distributed nature of the FMNHS faculty and students meant that a virtual network was required to support existing SBE documentation and promote a community of practice. The establishment of a SBE committee (including health service providers) that reports to an overarching FMNHS Education Committee signifies the importance of SBE to the overall curricula.

  Discussion Top

The paper has presented three components of simulation practice in Australia - strategic planning, programs, and professional networks. Planning that occurs at multiple levels appears critical to the development, implementation, and evaluation of healthcare simulation. At all levels, strategic planning included initial scoping of the SBE landscape; however, the goals of each scoping exercise varied slightly and reflected nuanced differences in their respective missions. Although a high level and consultative detailed scoping may have streamlined these repeated processes, the multiple scoping may have served to triangulate results, adding weight to planning factors.

At the national level, the coordinated approach to training simulation specialists demonstrates unparalleled efficiencies and economies on a scale. Supporting the development of entry-level simulation educators will increase utilization of SBE across the wide geographical areas characteristic of Australia; a decision derived from scoping information. The national program also provides a foundation from which to develop certification mechanisms for practitioners, programs, and facilities. The extent to which SBE can address some of the health workforce issues remains untested but the scale of the HWA programs is impressive.

At each level, strategic planning reflects the need for engagement between higher education institutions and health services. Institutional strategy that connects to state level strategy, which further connects to national strategy, is important because this connectedness facilitates local engagement toward national objectives. Although the characteristics of health services are similar across the country, contextual issues are always relevant and administrative boundaries necessitate the multiple levels of planning. The examples of strategic planning and programs presented previously describe methods for implementing SBE where it is needed and when. The movement of simulators between sites is an obvious economy gained from scalable practice, as demonstrated by the approach taken in Queensland. There is much to be learned from this approach that is largely health service led.

The least enacted strategic planning component appears to be investment in research. This is unsurprising because assessment and evaluation of SBE-related variables requires a stable platform before relevant information can be obtained. However, established networks will facilitate multisite studies as the professional community focuses further attention on research.

The presence of these professional networks at national and state levels reflects the desire for accessible communities of practice, minimizing the risk of practitioners working in isolation. Although there is some overlap between the aims of the associations/networks, they largely function within their scope of geographic cover. For example, state-specific issues are unlikely to be addressed at the national level and vice versa. There are several examples of state and regional networks in the literature. Although these networks have some similarities, our example offers an alternative for strategic planning, programs, and professional networking.

We hope that the Australian experience illustrates the benefits of planning at a national level, while maintaining state and local "ownership" to enable contextualization and sustainable practices. The future must include investment in research to demonstrate best practices across all facets of SBE.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]

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