Being time-based and taking into account all of the resources and constrains involved, medical simulation provides a uniquely powerful approach to healthcare decision-making.

Medical simulation software helps emulate a real-world situation and is normally used for the following purposes in healthcare organizations:

  • Waiting time reduction and patient care improvement
  • Planning and resource capacity
  • Making changes to patient care pathways and existing eHealth systems
  • Out-patient flow management
  • Seasonal pressures and system resilience
  • Healthcare facilities design
  • Medical staff training and on-job education, and so on

Some of the medical simulation application use cases involve, but aren’t limited to:

Systems where doing live tests is too expensive or risky in terms of sensitive data safety

Medical organizations use simulation software as a risk-free and inexpensive way of testing system changes from simple revisions to design of new control systems to redesign of the whole medical supply chain.

Robust and complex systems for which change is considered

Simulation software helps predict system behavior under the altered conditions and eliminate the risk of making a poor decision.

Systems where it’s critical to predict to process variability

Medical simulation helps understand how different system components interact and how they affect the entire system performance.

Systems that provide incomplete data

Simulation models aren’t capable of inventing data where it’s missing, but what they do well is helping determine sensitivity to unknown conditions and using predictive analytics methods to identify the most critical missing data points.

Systems that enforce communication and engagement

Modern 3D modeling and animation helps promote communication and better understanding within a wide audience.

In February 2015, the IEEE Institute approved a new eHealth standard 3333.2.1 that’s a recommended practice for 3D medical modeling. The IEEE standard provides techniques for 3D reconstruction of 2D medical images and a texturing method applied to 3D medical data for real-world visualization. The approval of this standard provides new opportunities for medical simulation and its use for building healthcare predictive models.

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Medical simulation emulates healthcare facility or process in a user-friendly, easy-to-learn and intuitive way. Using drag-and-drop elements and structures, physicians and medical staff can build simulations and visualize results with highly engaging 3D and 2D animation capabilities without needing any programming assistance. Using built-in dynamic dashboards, medical personnel can easily create custom displays of the model data to allow for better understanding of the hospital workflows and develop predictive analytics for different medical operations.

"Trials have shown that making modeling and simulation could reduce medical error costs by up to $17 billion across the country [United States]”. Congressman J. Randy Forbes.

Now let’s see how most of modern medical simulation tools works.

Process design

Using simulation software, responsible medical staff creates a flowchart, adds timelines, lifecycles (resources, patients, documents, rules etc.) and estimated time each task takes to complete.

Running a simulation

Once all of the above data has been put into the system, each individual action gets simulated (e.g. every significant event that happens in the process, any conflicting resources and delays, etc).

Visualization

Most of medical simulation systems available today use 3D animation to make UX more exciting and down-to-earth. Medical staff can either run the simulation at full speed to get the results fast, or run it slowly to see how each workflow element behaves within the system. Visualization allows seeing process gaps, where queues are built up, over- and under-utilization of resources, and many other processes.

Precise data delivery

Besides visualization, medial simulation software collects system performance data and measures for the medical staff to get accurate quantitative results about each part of the healthcare process.

Process optimization

That’s when what-if questions are answered. A medical employee makes a change, runs the simulation again to see the impact, then modifies the change based on the obtained results. Each scenario run is taking staff a step closer to the process optimization and improvement.

The results of what-if analysis are able to provide hospital staff with the abundance of useful information that would have been impossible to obtain through any other analysis method. For instance, they can give the outpatient management the variables affecting patient waiting time the most.

Medical simulation has already helped some healthcare organisations across the Globe, and namely:

  • UK NHS managed to save $166 million by moving dermatology treatment from outpatient care to the community
  • Geisinger’s Healthcare Enabled Logistics Program (HELP) was fully simulated which resulted in releasing 8% of nursing time back to direct patient care and reducing staffing for service delivery by 25% annually
  • Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) used simulation to test a $147 million facility renovation plan. In particular, SMH used simulation tools to test departments design at the blueprint stage, clarify operational objectives and gather and summarize hospital data to make sure the newly designed space will be functional and effective. As a result of simulation, SMH realized significant savings both in re-design and operational costs, and managed to improve the patient processes.
  • One experiment conducted at the Ondokuz Mayıs University Medical Faculty demonstrated that the accurate diagnosis and treatment approach had been performed in 3.9 of 5 cases by medical students trained with simulators vs 2.8 of 5 cases performed by students trained in a traditional manner.

And have you ever used medical simulation to improve healthcare personnel training and overall operations?

Sources: simul8.com, theinstitute.ieee.org, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Featured image: astec.arizona.edu

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other e-zines.

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