Background: Training interdisciplinary trauma teams to work effectively together using simulation technology has led to a reduction in medical errors in emergency department, operating room, and delivery room contexts. High-fidelity patient simulators (PSs)-the predominant method for training healthcare teams-are expensive to develop and implement and require that trainees be present in the same place at the same time. In contrast, online computer-based simulators are more cost effective and allow simultaneous participation by students in different locations and time zones. In this pilot study, the researchers created an online virtual emergency department (Virtual ED) for team training in crisis management, and compared the effectiveness of the Virtual ED with the PS. We hypothesized that there would be no difference in learning outcomes for graduating medical students trained with each method.
Methods: In this pilot study, we used a pretest-posttest control group, experimental design in which 30 subjects were randomly assigned to either the Virtual ED or the PS system. In the Virtual ED each subject logged into the online environment and took the role of a team member. Four-person teams worked together in the Virtual ED, communicating in real time with live voice over Internet protocol, to manage computer-controlled patients who exhibited signs and symptoms of physical trauma. Each subject had the opportunity to be the team leader. The subjects' leadership behavior as demonstrated in both a pretest case and a posttest case was assessed by 3 raters, using a behaviorally anchored scale. In the PS environment, 4-person teams followed the same research protocol, using the same clinical scenarios in a Simulation Center. Guided by the Emergency Medicine Crisis Resource Management curriculum, both the Virtual ED and the PS groups applied the basic principles of team leadership and trauma management (Advanced Trauma Life Support) to manage 6 trauma cases-a pretest case, 4 training cases, and a posttest case. The subjects in each group were assessed individually with the same simulation method that they used for the training cases.
Results: Subjects who used either the Virtual ED or the PS showed significant improvement in performance between pretest and posttest cases (P < 0.05). In addition, there was no significant difference in subjects' performance between the 2 types of simulation, suggesting that the online Virtual ED may be as effective for learning team skills as the PS, the method widely used in Simulation Centers. Data on usability and attitudes toward both simulation methods as learning tools were equally positive.
Discussion: This study shows the potential value of using virtual learning environments for developing medical students' and resident physicians' team leadership and crisis management skills.