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Can Simulation Measure Differences in Task-Switching Ability Between Junior and Senior Emergency Medicine Residents?


Introduction: Work interruptions during patient care have been correlated with error. Task-switching is identified by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) as a core competency for emergency medicine (EM). Simulation has been suggested as a means of assessing EM core competencies. We assumed that senior EM residents had better task-switching abilities than junior EM residents. We hypothesized that this difference could be measured by observing the execution of patient care tasks in the simulation environment when a patient with a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) interrupted the ongoing management of a septic shock case.

Methods: This was a multi-site, prospective, observational, cohort study. The study population consisted of a convenience sample of EM residents in their first three years of training. Each subject performed a standardized simulated encounter by evaluating and treating a patient in septic shock. At a predetermined point in every sepsis case, the subject was given a STEMI electrocardiogram (ECG) for a separate chest pain patient in triage and required to verbalize an interpretation and action. We scored learner performance using a dichotomous checklist of critical actions covering sepsis care, ECG interpretation and triaging of the STEMI patient.

Results: Ninety-one subjects participated (30 postgraduate year [PGY]1s, 32 PGY2s, and 29 PGY3s). Of those, 87 properly managed the patient with septic shock (90.0% PGY1s, 100% PGY2, 96.6% PGY 3s; p=0.22). Of the 87 who successfully managed the septic shock, 80 correctly identified STEMI on the simulated STEMI patient (86.7% PGY1s, 96.9% PGY2s, 93.1% PGY3s; p=0.35). Of the 80 who successfully managed the septic shock patient and correctly identified the STEMI, 79 provided appropriate interventions for the STEMI patient (73.3% PGY1s, 93.8% PGY2s, 93.8% PGY3s; p=0.07).

Conclusion: When management of a septic shock patient was interrupted with a STEMI ECG in a simulated environment we were unable to measure a significant difference in the ability of EM residents to successfully task-switch when compared across PGY levels of training. This study may help refine the use of simulation to assess EM resident competencies.

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