How to purchase a high fidelity patient simulator

Simulators can be very complex, sophisticated and expensive so ask yourself these questions to help choose what's right for your agency

By Amar Patel
WakeMed Health & Hospitals

I often get asked the question, "What should I buy?" My immediate answer is always the same: "It depends."

You need to understand what you hope to accomplish by purchasing the technology; I see individuals or departments be pushed into purchasing a Ferrari when they only needed a Kia.  

There are an incredible number of variables that influence a high cost, sophisticated piece of equipment, especially training equipment that may require a significant amount of resources to make it work successfully and reliably.

If you are in the market for a patient simulator, consider the following questions:

1. What you are looking to do?
High fidelity patient simulators are very expensive to use as task trainers, or as noninteractive manikins. There are smarter, less expensive ways to conduct skills training; critical thinking skills can be developed by using complex scenarios.

Carefully consider how you will use the device. It will be crucial to build sets of learning outcomes that match the intended learning objectives, while integrating simulation methodology. Otherwise, your simulator will become a very expensive paperweight or doorstop.

The reality is, you need to understand your curriculum and anticipate the future in order to purchase what you need.  You should never purchase equipment because a sales person, who does not always understand your needs, tells you to do so.  

2. Who you are looking to train?
Is it only EMS personnel, or will there be other healthcare providers who will be trained, such as nurses or physicians? Look at simulators that offer the interactivity that will fit your learning groups' needs.

While you may intend to be training only your department members, recognize that other organizations may want to tap into your expertise and deliver simulator training to their staff. You may end up developing a revenue source that could help offset some of your operating costs.

3. Where will the training occur, in a static location or on the road?
Moving a simulator from one location to another requires the device to be easy to set up and break down. A simulator that needs to be moved during a scenario may need to be wireless and self-sufficient.

4. What will be your staff commitment?
Depending upon the complexity of the simulator, you may need a significant amount of training and practice to get instructors up to speed in its use. You may also need someone with a technical mind to help troubleshoot the device.

Instructors may be hesitant to incorporate simulation into their existing teaching practices. You will need to get their buy in and build enthusiasm for its use. Ultimately the instructors will be the ones to not only use the device, but to also support its ongoing use.

5. What will be the department's commitment?
Patient simulators can be very expensive to acquire and costly to maintain. Your organization must be committed to its use, with budget money set aside for training, replaceable items and routine maintenance.

Speaking of money: consider the warranty. The added expense often turns people off. My warranties have paid for more "oops" repairs than I can count.

As a busy program, we survive off of the warranties. Many people often forgo the added expense only to later spend thousands of dollars in repairs or system upgrades. The annual maintenance alone is worth the expense.

Like buying a car or a home, you need to understand what you are looking for and ask every vendor to demonstrate their equipment as fully as possible.  

Ask the representative why "theirs is better than the competitor." Always ask for two good references, one neutral reference (someone who has multiple types of simulation equipment), and one bad reference. You need to understand what the future entails before committing to a product.  

Finally, beware of this hidden pitfall: You have money available and not a lot of time to make a decision. So, you end up buying big, one device that contains all of the bells and whistles but one that, for some departments, is rarely used.  

Another option is to consider purchasing more than one less expensive simulator that is more suitable to your needs. A single expensive purchase will force you to only be able to teach one group of students, when you could have taught two (or even three)!

In summary, like all big purchases, do your homework and make sure you know what you need to get, before going out to get it. Your planning will maximize your purchase and you won't regret it.

About the author

Amar Patel is the Director of the Center for Innovative Learning at WakeMed Health & Hospitals. He is responsible for integrating technology based educational programs across the WakeMed system. Amar is a nationally registered paramedic, haz-mat technician, and a firefighter maintaining over 17 certifications. He is currently involved in simulation-based research that focuses on integration and implementation of simulation as means to improve human and system processes.


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