Simulation Leads to Success in High-Consequence Training

Simulation training helps to standardize responses, improve communication, and react effectively to situation variation.

By David J. Letts, Vice President, RaytheonProfessional Services LLC

A group of oil and gas offshore workers are scrambling out of a helicopter cabin that is partially submerged in water. Thankfully, their “crash” and escape are part of a simulation training exercise in the massive 40-foot-deep pool at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The same facility where Raytheon Professional Services and its training partners now are preparing oil and gas rig crews for potential high-consequence incidents—and to help prevent them in the first place.

Several hundred miles away, in a trauma unit in a Florida hospital, the floor is bustling as emergency medical technicians relay vital information to a nurse, who, in turn, begins coordinating the patient’s care with the rest of the trauma team. They’ve performed these tasks hundreds of times—but this sequence is different: no shouting, darting about, frantically searching for staff, answers, or equipment. Instead it is a symphony—everyone playing their part in harmony, at the right pace, anticipating their team members’ responses and needs, as well as those of the patient.

While ongoing and on-the-job training is part of every hospital worker’s experience, it is frequently uneven in its application and effectiveness. The team at Baptist Health in Alabama took their efforts further, designing and deploying simulation training known as SMART, which stands for Synergistic Medical and Resource Team training. The goal is to deliver mission assurance—just like in the military—by increasing group emotional intelligence.

At a time of when many industries in the global economy are becoming increasingly complex and regulated, where the magnitude and ramifications of business decisions are dramatic, there are three key things we can learn from Raytheon’s vast experience training the U.S. military’s war fighters, the FAA’s air traffic controllers, and NASA astronauts.

1.  Simulation training is essential for practicing how to perform at peak levels in high-stakes environments where failure is not an option. Pilots learn in a simulated cockpit for a reason; they can train under variable conditions without the fear of crashing. They can even train on what to do if they crash. For other high-consequence industries, such as health care and oil and gas—and even the automotive industry where technicians must ensure that the cars they build and maintain are safe for families to drive—failure is not an option. Simulation training helps to standardize responses, improve communication, and react effectively to situation variation. For astronauts who have never launched into orbit, it is difficult to imagine what weightlessness feels like and how to perform tasks in it without first having simulation training. For oil rig workers, how would they respond if the helicopter they use every day failed? Simulation training helps them make critical decisions under stressful and realistic circumstances, so they can respond effectively if and when they encounter a similar situation in real life.

2. Group emotional intelligence can be learnedand this is a critical success factor when making decisions and working together under stressful conditions. The “intelligence” in a group is very different than individual emotional intelligence. Group emotional intelligence comes from the patterns of behavior or norms that develop as the group goes about its task and is critical to understand in order to improve outcomes in high-consequence situations. Think of a cardiac surgeon—especially one newly assigned to a hospital with an unfamiliar staff. How will they all work together seamlessly when a patient having a heart attack arrives? Having group emotional training means the staff is not barking orders or misreading charts, and everyone knows where to stand, what to do and what the expectations are. The results look and sound different from an untrained effort. The team is calm, confident, and focused on the patient. They aren’t nearly as likely to make a costly mistake.

There are several ways to achieve group emotional intelligence, including:

  • Removing organizational barriers and replacing them with cohesive group roles. Instead of the hierarchical doctor vs. nurse dynamic, the whole team is attuned to the mission-critical goal or situation at hand.
  • Learning effective role-based communication strategies to use within the group is the next piece of training that knits these employees together.
  • Communicating information clearly, at the right time, and in meaningful context reduces mistakes, increases efficiencies, and delivers desired outcomes.

3. “Mission Assurance” should be a goal of all organizations. In the military and in the enterprise, this ideal applies system engineering, risk management, quality, and management principles to achieve success of an operation from start to finish, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom. In hospitals, it can be applied to do the exact same thing. The need for clear communication and practice may sound obvious, but medical errors cost the U.S. economy $19.5 billion dollars each year, approximately $13,000 per error. After participating in SMART and group emotional intelligence training, Baptist Health Hospital experienced significant improvement in outcomes in terms of delivering mission assurance including a:

  • 66 percent reduction in the unexpected admission to critical care units
  • 95 percent reduction in the need of re-intubation after surgery
  • 47 percent reduction in post-operative complications system-wide
  • 7.7 percent reduction in staff turnover, demonstrating that training also has an impact on employee satisfaction

By applying high-consequence training methods that the military and NASA have successfully used for years, industries can improve outcomes and efficiencies, mitigating or eliminating risk and even helping them meet their regulatory requirements. The ripple effect can be vast. The training can make employees more confident and in control, more valuable to the company, and more likely to stay on in their role. It can help us protect our goals, the environment, and even a life.

David J. Letts is vice president of Raytheon Professional Services LLC (RPS), a subsidiary of Raytheon Company. Delivering more than 7 million hours of custom training in 30 languages to learners in 100 countries each year, RPS is a global leader in learning services and outsourcing. RPS improves clients’ business performance by redesigning how they train their employees, customers, and partners; implementing their new training design; and managing their training in long-term outsourcing engagements.

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