Could simulated emergency procedures practised in a static environment improve the clinical performance of a Critical Care Air Support Team (CCAST)? A literature review

Di Lamb
Intensive & Critical Care Nursing: the Official Journal of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses 2007, 23 (1): 33-42

OBJECTIVE: The Royal Air Force Critical Care Air Support Teams (CCASTs) have a philosophy to undertake transfers of critically ill patients from anywhere in the world back to a UK medical facility in a stable or improved clinical condition. The training they receive is primarily taught by traditional didactic methods, with no standardisation of education between teams that are expected to deliver care to the same standard. Notwithstanding there being no current compromise to patient care during air transfer, it was important to consider the benefits of an alternative experiential teaching modality. Experiential learning utilised in the static environment could potentially improve the current CCAST training curriculum and, therefore, improve clinical performance during air transfer.

METHOD: In the absence of primary research evidence investigating beneficial teaching modalities for medical flight crews, a review of recent literature was undertaken to observe any potential relevance to the aeromedical specialty. This critical review examined recent quantitative research on various modalities of experiential learning and their influence on the critical thinking, higher cognitive and psychomotor skill acquisition by healthcare professionals in a static hospital environment. The main databases were interrogated using the following inclusion criteria: patient simulation, clinical competence, aeromedical, education, computer simulation, critical thinking and problem-based learning. The number of articles obtained was 13; these were coded on methodological strength to reduce the potential for inclusion bias. Nine studies were finally selected for review.

RESULTS: Many small studies have been undertaken, primarily observing benefits of experiential learning to medical students and doctors. No studies show conclusively that simulated learning improves patient outcome, but the body of evidence suggests human patient simulators to be advantageous over other modalities because of their realistic recreation of critical events. They have proven to be at least as effective as traditional teaching by didactic methods.

CONCLUSION: For CCASTs to have a standardised training curriculum, they should undertake real-time missions in a flight simulator, supported by a human patient simulator programmed to respond to the physiological changes associated with altitude. Real scenarios could then be practised, on demand, in a safe environment as an augmentation to the current training programme. Consequently, those acquired skills could then be carried out with improved proficiency during real missions with a concomitant potential for improvement in the standard of patient care.

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