From knee surgery to delivering a child, simulations are as close to a live clinical experience a medical students can get.

In an attempt to teach safe practices and techniques when prescribing opioids, medical simulation appears to be very effective according to a study from Stanford University. Close to 50,000 Americans have died in 2016 alone due to opioid-related overdoses and preventative care could possibly help lower these numbers.

Safe Opioid Prescribing

A study conducted at Stanford University tested the effectiveness of using medical simulation and learning techniques to teach safe prescription diagnosis. An actor plays the role of a patient with an opioid use disorder while anesthisology residents and pain medicine fellows take the role of the physician. The patient meets the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). In the simulation, the patient visits the clinic for a prescription refill.

Anesthesiology residents and pain medicine fellows are video recorded and later assessed based on their strategies used to treat the patient in the simulation. Trainees are to determine the benefits and risks associated with prescribing an opioid. They must show their clinical skills and demonstrate their safety precautions before prescribing the appropriate opioid-related diagnosis.

The simulation ends with trainees handing in a patient care note for the medical chart which is reviewed by a professor who then provides feedback. Trainees who emphasized concern of substance abuse, or an opioid-use disorder, and asked patients to see an addiction medicine specialist ranked higher in terms of clinical skills and patient interactions. In addition, residents could also suggest drug monitoring programs or urine drug testing to monitor patients with such disorder.

The purpose of this simulation is to let trainees develop the skills to deal with complex situations without affecting an actual patient. Many times, young physicians feel they lack skills or knowledge and do not think through the process of diagnosing patients with an opioid use disorder. The study indicated the simulation and range of learning techniques let students, residents and pain medicine fellows experience the complex thought process of proper opioid diagnosis.

The study concluded that simulation is an effective way to teach the necessary skills medical students need before experiencing a real situation. Rather than learning in a classroom, immediate feedback and hands-on teaching techniques provides students with a effective education and improved patient care.