Simulating Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Emergencies to Improve Human Performance. Part II: Assessment of Technical and Behavioral Skills

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Healthcare professionals are expected to make rapid, correct decisions in critical situations despite what may be a lack of real practical experience in a particular crisis situation. Successful resolution of a medical crisis depends upon demonstration not only of appropriate technical skills but also of key behavioral skills (eg, leadership, communication, and teamwork). We have developed a hands-on, high fidelity, simulation-based training program (ECMO Sim) to provide healthcare professionals with the opportunity to learn and practice the technical and behavioral skills necessary to manage ECMO emergencies.


Nine ECMO nurse specialists participated in two sequential randomly assigned simulated ECMO emergencies. The simulated emergencies were captured on videotape and reviewed with the subjects during facilitated debriefings that occurred immediately following each scenario. All videotapes were scored for key technical and behavioral skills by reviewers blinded to the sequence of the scenarios. The ratings of the subjects’ technical and behavioral skills in each scenario were compared.


Subjects performed key technical skills correctly more often in the second simulated ECMO emergency. In addition, their response times for three out of five specific technical tasks improved from the first to the second simulated emergency by an average of 27 seconds. Subjects’ behavioral skills were rated more highly by masked reviewers in the second simulated ECMO emergency. The improvement in comprehensive behavioral scores from the first to the second scenario reached statistical significance in eight of nine subjects.


After exposure to high-fidelity simulated ECMO emergencies, subjects demonstrated significant improvements in their technical and behavioral skills. ECMO Sim creates a learning environment that readily supports the acquisition of the technical and behavioral skills that are important in solving clinically significant, potentially life-threatening problems that can occur when patients are on ECMO.

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