Connecting Simulation & Patient Safety: Part I

By: Allison F. Perry

patient safety photo1My first exposure to health care simulation came in early 2010 while working for the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), now merged with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), where I am a project director. We were in the early stages of planning our next Annual Patient Safety Congress, a meeting that provides practitioners, leaders, and experts from around the world a unique opportunity to share knowledge of, and passion for, patient safety. At that time, our leadership asked the planning committee a very important question: How might we transform our meeting to create excitement and increase the engagement of our attendees? We were particularly interested in revamping the traditional exhibit hall, to create a space that would not only drive traffic into the hall but would also reinforce the learning from the entire meeting in practical and meaningful ways.

What better way to demonstrate important patient safety tools and methodologies than through simulation?

The idea to bring simulation to our patient safety meeting came from Dr. Jeffrey B. Cooper, a pioneer in health care simulation and executive director emeritus of the Center for Medical Simulation in Boston. We started with the basics: What do patient safety professionals need to know about simulation and what can they easily bring back to their organizations, especially if they don’t already have a simulation department? The excitement and engagement garnered from the experience came naturally with the novelty of having live demonstrations at an otherwise didactic health care meeting, and the learning outcomes laid the foundation for the next decade of integrating simulation into our Patient Safety Congress.

Since that first meeting in 2010, our Safety Congress has integrated simulation into the exhibit hall every year, growing and advancing the curriculum as the fields of simulation and patient safety knowledge have grown and evolved. We have provided half-day and all-day immersion workshops that have offered unique learning opportunities, ranging from Simulation 101 to building a simulation center from the ground up. We have also offered several plenary addresses that have demonstrated the use of simulation while providing opportunities for participant engagement.

Yes, it is possible to get a room of more than 800 people involved in a simulation scenario on stage! In our programs, we addressed key safety topics like patient and family engagement, teamwork and communication, disclosure and apology, shared decision-making, root cause analysis and action, and more. IHI/NPSF’s utilization of simulation as a teaching technique extends well beyond clinical techniques and skills-based training (e.g., shoulder dystocia and central line placement) to include training in broader issues such as leadership and board engagement and education and how to use simulation to educate and train patients and family members.

patient safety photo2Since my first introduction to health care simulation, I’ve immersed myself in exploring how simulation can be used to teach and improve upon patient safety (both as a discipline and in practice). I’ve also had the unique opportunity to work closely with experts from both fields, and in doing so I’ve become acutely aware of the disconnect between patient safety and simulation teams at the organizational level. With the same purpose, and mounting evidence that simulation is making a positive impact on health care delivery and outcomes (McGaghie, Draycott, Dunn, Lopez, & Stefanidid, 2011; Salas, Paige, & Rosen, 2013), why do silos remain? The opportunities for using simulation to improve upon the safety of our patients and workforce are limitless. It is my hope that through the work coming out of IHI/NPSF, more patient safety and simulation experts, working together, will recognize the opportunities for collaboration and coordinated efforts. At the end of the day, our aim is to improve the safety and quality of health care for our patients and the staff delivering the care. We can do that best when we work together.

For almost 10 years now, IHI/NPSF has worked tirelessly to cultivate the groundwork laid by Dr. Cooper. The result is a space available to learners that allows them to interact and apply core patient safety knowledge in meaningful and comprehensive ways. Our ultimate goal is to create a pathway toward spanning the boundaries of each discipline and their mutual passion and commitment to patients, families, and the health care workforce. As we continue to develop and grow our simulation program, I encourage you to think about how you can use simulation to tackle a pertinent patient safety issue or problem. In Part II of this two-part series, I will share methods that you can adopt to foster networks of communication and collaboration between patient safety and simulation teams within your organization or learning networks.


McGaghie, W. C., Draycott, T. J., Dunn, W .F., Lopez, C.M, & Stefanidid, D. (2011). Evaluating the impact of simulation on translational patient outcomes. Simulation in Healthcare, 6 (Suppl), S42-S47.

Salas, E, Paige, J.T., & Rosen, M. A. (2013). Creating new realities in healthcare: the status of simulation-based training as a patient safety improvement strategy. BMJ Quality and Safety, 22, 449-452.

Allison Perry photoAllison Perry is a Senior Project Manager at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement-National Patient Safety Foundation (IHI-NPSF). Allison’s background is in Medical Anthropology. She is a graduate of the AHA-NPSF Patient Safety Leadership Fellowship. She has over 12 years of experience in the field of patient safety including the creation, management and oversight of a variety of NPSF publications, patient safety seminars, the fellowship program, and educational materials for health care professionals and patients. She developed and leads the NPSF Learning and Simulation Center, and has facilitated the integration of simulation into plenary sessions at the Annual NPSF Patient Safety Congress. Allison is passionate about finding new and innovative ways to bring the patient safety and simulation communities together.


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