According to CDC data, 1.7 million adults in the United States develop sepsis each year, resulting in 350,000 deaths. Sepsis cases are on the rise and remain challenging to diagnose and treat. Prompt recognition and intervention are crucial to avoiding morbidity and mortality, but the best management practices continue to evolve. Simulation-based training is an effective educational tool for healthcare students and professionals to learn and hone sepsis management practices, potentially mitigating the rising incidence of sepsis-related morbidity and mortality.
Why sepsis training is important
The prioritization of training in sepsis guidelines will be critical in their adoption into the clinical environment. Just as educators have used proficiency training to prepare for life-threatening events like stroke or heart attack, the same process can apply to address sepsis.
Sepsis can affect anyone at any age and become life-threatening quickly. Therefore, the number of lives saved cannot be understated if the healthcare providers had more practice and training in these guidelines. Studies by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization indicate that gaps in knowledge and awareness of sepsis are major contributors to the global burden of the disease in terms of cost and lives lost. 
The patients most susceptible to sepsis are also the most vulnerable, such as infants, pregnant women, older people, and those with weakened immune systems. Moreover, sepsis is associated with persons with lung infections (like pneumonia), urinary tract infections, and burns. Each of these patients presents a particular challenge for providers, and due to the complex nature of those ailments, sepsis may be overlooked as a comorbidity by a provider unfamiliar with its signs and symptoms.
Training programs should put a greater emphasis on sepsis guidelines to improve outcomes. However, the U.S. faces mounting barriers to clinical hours, including faculty shortages and limited training spaces. Moreover, because sepsis requires prompt and expert intervention to avoid mortality, it would be inappropriate for novice clinicians to get hands-on experience in these cases as this could lead to mistakes or delays in treatment.
Experiential learning is vital to developing the skills and competency needed to perform effectively during sepsis scenarios. Programs can overcome these barriers through simulation-based training as it facilitates opportunities to practice sepsis guidelines safely.
How can simulation fill the training gap?
While barriers to practicing sepsis guidelines exist, simulation-based training can help overcome those barriers. Simulators like Gaumard’s HAL® 5301, SUSIE® S901, Pediatric HAL® 2225, and Super TORY® have advanced features and scenario content that help facilitate immersive, hands-on sepsis scenarios. For example, the educator can lower HAL’s blood pressure, increase his heart rate, and program shallow breathing. HAL can communicate with the participants to show severe changes in his mental state, like confusion.
These are all symptoms of sepsis that providers should recognize early on so interventions are started immediately. Participants can use real tools and equipment to auscultate HAL’s heart and lungs and measure blood pressure. Moreover, they can establish intravenous access and push simulated antibiotics, antiviral medication, and intravenous fluids.
The simulator’s vital signs and physical presentation will change in real time as interventions are performed so participants see the consequences of their actions. They also experience the quick pace and stress inherent in these cases as they have to think critically, delegate tasks, and begin intervention before sepsis progresses to its most severe stage.
Thus, participants can learn and hone sepsis guidelines experientially rather than through passive observation. Working under pressure also helps them become familiar with these high-stress environments so they can develop the ability to perform effectively and avoid mistakes. This is why experiential learning is invaluable in healthcare education. It ensures students gain the competence and confidence to enter the workforce and perform to the best of their ability.
Addressing theory-practice gaps
The theory-practice gap is a “lack of ability to relate the knowledge acquired in academics and research work with practice.” Patient care suffers when providers cannot relate the knowledge acquired in the classroom with practice in the field. The theory-practice gap negatively impacts providers’ ability to provide safe and effective care.
Theory-practice gaps have become a significant problem as healthcare faculty shortages persist, resulting in educators splitting more of their time between clinical practice and academia despite a need to prioritize applying theory in context-specific and workable ways.
Simulation-based training can provide a realistic yet controlled environment to make skill practice and learning more representative of the contextual realities of everyday clinical praxis. This is not possible in traditional clinical hours as learning is more opportunistic. Simulation allows for deliberate and purposeful practice where participants have repetitive and regular opportunities to hone skills.
Debriefing sessions following the simulation led by an educator help the participants identify mistakes and how to improve their performance. Then, they can repeat the scenario and use the information gained to make better clinical management decisions. Simulation promotes intellectual growth and allows the participants to hone skills and competence that are essential in providing the best care possible.
As medical guidelines and technology continue to advance, it is vital to support students and clinicians with the training to keep them updated with the latest best practices. Simulation facilitates learning opportunities that can keep their knowledge updated and ensure they are familiar with best practices. By applying the current knowledge hands-on, providers are better prepared to manage sepsis cases whenever they are encountered.
In conclusion, the growing prevalence of sepsis necessitates a hands-on approach to training healthcare students and professionals in sepsis management guidelines. Simulation-based training can help bridge the training gap, offering a safe and immersive environment for healthcare learners to practice sepsis management skills. Simulation enables healthcare professionals to experience the dynamic nature of sepsis cases, fostering critical thinking, quick decision-making, and the ability to perform under pressure. By actively applying current knowledge, they are better prepared to manage sepsis cases, ultimately reducing morbidity and mortality rates.
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