World events continue to compel hospitals to have agile and scalable response arrangements for managing natural and instigated disasters. While many hospitals have disaster plans, few exercise these plans or test their staff under realistic scenarios.
This study explores changes in perceived preparedness of multidisciplinary hospital-wide teams to manage mass casualty incidents.
Two Emergo Train System (ETS) mass casualty exercises involving 80 and 86 “victims,” respectively, were run at two southeast Queensland hospitals: one large teaching hospital and one smaller regional hospital. Pre- and post-exercise surveys were administered, capturing participants’ confidence, skills, and process knowledge anonymously on 5-point Likert scales. A waiver of ethics review was obtained. Changes in individuals’ pre- and post-scores were analyzed using paired t-tests. Open-ended questions and a “hot debrief” occurring immediately post-exercise allowed for capture of improvement ideas.
Nearly 200 unique healthcare staff (n=193) participated in one exercise. At least one survey was returned by 159 staff (82.4%). Pre- and post- surveys were available for 89 staff; two-thirds (n=59) were nurses or doctors, and 46% overall were emergency department clinicians. Ninety-seven percent reported the exercise was valuable, also recommending additional simulations. Analysis of the 89 matched-pairs showed significant (p<.001) increases in self-confidence, skills, and knowledge (point increases on a five-point Likert scale (95% confidence intervals): 0.8 (0.6-0.9) for confidence and 0.4 (0.2-0.5) for both skills and knowledge. The exercise was critically appraised and a summary of operational learnings was developed. The most common criticism of ETS was its lack of real patients.
Involvement in simulated exercises (e.g. ETS) can increase confidence, knowledge, and skills of staff to manage disasters, with the biggest improvement in confidence. Whilst validating and testing plans, simulations can also uncover opportunities to improve processes and systems.