Objectives: The objective of this study was to compare the relative impact of two simulation-based methods for training emergency medicine (EM) residents in disaster triage using the Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) algorithm, full-immersion virtual reality (VR), and standardized patient (SP) drill. Specifically, are there differences between the triage performances and posttest results of the two groups, and do both methods differentiate between learners of variable experience levels?
Methods: Fifteen Postgraduate Year 1 (PGY1) to PGY4 EM residents were randomly assigned to two groups: VR or SP. In the VR group, the learners were effectively surrounded by a virtual mass disaster environment projected on four walls, ceiling, and floor and performed triage by interacting with virtual patients in avatar form. The second group performed likewise in a live disaster drill using SP victims. Setting and patient presentations were identical between the two modalities. Resident performance of triage during the drills and knowledge of the START triage algorithm pre/post drill completion were assessed. Analyses included descriptive statistics and measures of association (effect size).
Results: The mean pretest scores were similar between the SP and VR groups. There were no significant differences between the triage performances of the VR and SP groups, but the data showed an effect in favor of the SP group performance on the posttest.
Conclusions: Virtual reality can provide a feasible alternative for training EM personnel in mass disaster triage, comparing favorably to SP drills. Virtual reality provides flexible, consistent, on-demand training options, using a stable, repeatable platform essential for the development of assessment protocols and performance standards.