In the practice of emergency medicine, simulation is a valuable tool that allows medical students and postgraduate residents to develop skills in a safe environment at no risk to patients. In this report, we present a case simulation of an acute asthma exacerbation utilizing a human patient simulator. The case is designed such that it can be easily modified to accommodate the trainee’s level of expertise, allowing instructors to challenge both the novice and advanced learner alike.
Asthma exacerbation is a problem frequently encountered in the emergency department. Its severity at presentation can range from a mild increased shortness of breath to respiratory arrest and death. In 2009, it accounted for 2.1 million emergency department visits in the United States alone . Although asthma fatalities have steadily declined since the 1990s, the early recognition and treatment of asthma exacerbation is vital to preventing patient deterioration and possible death [1-2].
The biggest challenge in treating asthma exacerbation lies in identifying patients who are most at risk for deterioration and instituting prompt action. It has been suggested that there exists a window of opportunity wherein aggressive treatment of such a deteriorating patient may prevent a fatal outcome .
Simulation has been shown to enhance knowledge and skills acquisition as well as improve patient outcomes in emergency medicine and for other health care learners . This technical report details a simulation training session designed for a cohort of emergency medicine trainees in their third and final year of training at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Its objectives focus on identifying and managing the patient presenting with an acute asthma exacerbation utilizing basic treatments and thereafter progressing through a series of more aggressive interventions in response to patient deterioration. The scenario’s stepwise design enables it to escalate in complexity, allowing its use in training a wide variety of learners, such as undergraduate medical students and residents in a family practice setting.
This simulation session was conducted in a lab and utilized both a confederate voicing the role of the patient, as well as a high-fidelity mannequin simulator. Although a confederate may be used to play the patient throughout the scenario up to the point of requiring intubation, the progressive tachypnea demonstrated may be difficult for a confederate to simulate in an effective and safe manner.
Prior to the session, we developed a patient script as well as a stepwise, detailed scenario template (Table 1). This process required collating all the information and supporting documents such as EKG/ECG tracings (Figure 1) and x-rays (Figures 2, 3) that were to be used during the scenario execution. These templates were then submitted to the simulation lab’s technical staff who reviewed the script, programmed the mannequin, and supplied required materials for the scenario’s execution.
Before conducting the session, an instructor performed a dry run of the scenario. This allowed us to identify and address technical issues that might adversely affect the learning experience. We then developed a checklist based on the scenario’s learning objectives to allow us to assess the trainees during the scenario’s execution. This also aided in identifying specific areas of performance to be addressed during debriefing.
During the simulation, two instructors were required. The first instructor served as the scenario director, maintaining overall control of the scenario’s progression. This instructor also called for the supporting documents to be uploaded or delivered to the trainees as required by the scenario template (Table 1) (Figures 1-3). A second instructor observed trainees as they progressed through the simulation, noting the points at which critical decisions and potential errors occurred. This instructor used an assessment checklist (Table 2) in order to ensure that all errors were noted for later debriefing. Both instructors participated in the post-scenario debriefing, with the second instructor serving as lead debriefer.
A pre-briefing was held with the trainees before the case. Here, we addressed the fiction contract – the agreement between participants and instructors to proceed as if the simulation is real while simultaneously acknowledging it is not. We reviewed the limitations of the simulation, specifically addressing technical issues that trainees might encounter during the scenario, as well as resource availability. Finally, the trainees were advised as to whether the scenario was strictly formative or if there would be an evaluative component to the session.
In this simulation case, a 23-year-old female with a history of asthma presents to the emergency department complaining of shortness of breath. She recently finished a course of prednisone. She has been admitted to the hospital/ICU on past presentations. Note that the scenario is designed such that it is easily modified to the learner’s level of training. For example, it may be terminated once appropriate nebulizers and steroids are ordered (i.e., after Objective 1 in Table 1 is complete) or, if being used in a more advanced learner, the scenario may progress to include Objectives 2 and 3 with patient deterioration requiring advanced management, including airway intervention. While we have provided vital signs for each step, these are easily modified to portray a more stable patient.
The scenario is conducted in a resuscitation bay with airway equipment, resuscitation cart, and defibrillator available. Drugs available include inhalers (salbutamol, ipratropium), nebules (salbutamol, ipratropium, and budesonide), intravenous steroids, magnesium sulfate, and those required for rapid-sequence intubation and advanced cardiac life support.
Upon entering the room, the trainee is met with a patient sitting upright on a gurney, dressed in a hospital gown with no intravenous lines or cardiac monitor attached. A full set of vitals is provided via a brief triage note. The trainee is then instructed to proceed with their evaluation of the patient.
At the conclusion of the scenario, a formal debriefing was conducted with the trainees. To establish an environment of psychological safety conducive to learning, we revisited the confidential nature of debriefing and also reaffirmed our belief in our trainees’ intelligence, commitment to doing their best, and desire to improve . We subsequently conducted our debriefing using a model based on the tenets of advocacy-inquiry and frame discovery . An assessment tool (Table 2) used during the scenario, was used to ensure that all the errors noted by the instructors were discussed during the debriefing phase.
After the debriefing session, we conducted a brief didactic session in which we addressed any knowledge gaps identified during the scenario and subsequent debrief. This allowed our trainees to consolidate new knowledge obtained during the simulation. We also provided our trainees with various handouts and links to websites and online articles pertinent to the recognition and management of acute asthma exacerbation .
Asthma exacerbation is a problem frequently encountered in the emergency department. Although the majority of cases presenting to the emergency department do not require aggressive treatment, failure to promptly recognize and address signs of patient deterioration can lead to fatal outcomes. Thus, it is vital for trainees to develop familiarity with identifying and promptly managing those patients most at risk for deterioration.
This scenario was designed to take the learner through a series of interventions ranging from basic treatments to advanced airway management in the patient with an acute asthma exacerbation. Its learning objectives focused primarily on:
1. Managing a patient presenting with an acute asthma exacerbation.
2. Recognizing and addressing respiratory fatigue in the acute asthma patient.
3. Identifying and addressing signs of impending respiratory failure and arrest.
Given that the patient with an asthma exacerbation can present within a spectrum of severity ranging from mild shortness of breath to respiratory arrest, we intentionally designed this scenario to be easily adapted to fit the needs of a wide audience. Its stepwise algorithm can be terminated at any given point according to the learner’s level of training by modifying the vital signs to reflect patient stabilization once the desired actions are undertaken by the learner.
The ability to identify and competently manage the patient with acute asthma exacerbation presenting to the emergency department is vital in preventing patient deterioration and possible death. Here, we describe a simulation scenario utilized to help the trainee gain familiarity with diagnosing and treating the deteriorating asthma patient, incorporating both simulation-based and didactic learning.
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Asthma Exacerbation: An Emergency Medicine Simulation Scenario
Ethics Statement and Conflict of Interest Disclosures
Human subjects: All authors have confirmed that this study did not involve human participants or tissue. Animal subjects: All authors have confirmed that this study did not involve animal subjects or tissue. Conflicts of interest: In compliance with the ICMJE uniform disclosure form, all authors declare the following: Payment/services info: All authors have declared that no financial support was received from any organization for the submitted work. Financial relationships: All authors have declared that they have no financial relationships at present or within the previous three years with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work. Other relationships: All authors have declared that there are no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.
This project was supported by Tuckamore Simulation Research Collaborative and Emergency Medicine Education Committee, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Cite this article as:
Angus K, Parsons M H, Cheeseman N, et al. (March 20, 2015) Asthma Exacerbation: An Emergency Medicine Simulation Scenario. Cureus 7(3): e258. doi:10.7759/cureus.258
Received by Cureus: December 04, 2014
Peer review began: December 06, 2014
Peer review concluded: March 02, 2015
Published: March 20, 2015
© Copyright 2015
Angus et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CC-BY 3.0., which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.