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Joanna Harris at home in Wellsford with her children. Photo/Supplied

How simulation is helping our health professionals to save lives

The best way for health professionals to ensure they get it right, when it matters, is to practise together as a team. And the best way to practise is through simulation – replicating real-life situations, and getting hands-on experience, which can be put into action for people like Joanna Harris.

One fateful Friday, as Harris was driving north of Warkworth on SH1, her car was struck by a van travelling the other way. “I remember the impact, the noises, the smell. I’m so glad the kids weren’t in the car.” Harris didn’t make it home from work that afternoon. She was airlifted to Auckland City Hospital, with her chance of survival rated as less than 50%. A team of 15 highly skilled clinicians worked through the night to save her life.

In and out of consciousness for four weeks, she underwent multiple operations to treat her complex injuries, and she feels immense gratitude to her clinicians: “You feel like you owe them your life.”

Through simulation, clinicians improve their skills by practising complex and often life-saving procedures on realistic manikins that mimic every possible patient situation, including Jo’s.  These high-tech manikins have a heartbeat; they can breathe, blink and bleed. 

Simulation also teaches communication, leadership and teamwork skills – ensuring cohesive action in stressful times and crises.

Auckland City Hospital is New Zealand’s largest teaching hospital and, although simulation is already happening, there is vast potential for improvement. Through donations to the Auckland Health Foundation, the official charity for adult health services at Auckland District Health Board (ADHB), world-class simulation in Auckland can be a reality and clinicians can continuously train to better care for patients such as Harris.  Three key resources are needed to make that happen: people, equipment and space.

The team training on a Resusci Anne QCPR manikin at Auckland City Hospital. Photo/Supplied

Auckland Health Foundation chief executive Gwen Green says, “As a small charity supporting a large organisation, we work closely with ADHB teams to identify where our donors can make the biggest impact, delivering improvements beyond what is possible with government funding.

“Advances in simulation are vital to world-class healthcare, and our supporters can make a real difference in patients’ lives by donating towards this project, which will take shape over the next two years at a cost of up to $5 million. Current priority items range in price from $186 to $230,000.

“Simulation will be delivered by the industry’s finest, in spaces that look and feel like operating theatres and wards, with high-tech manikins and specialist equipment. But it will only happen with the generosity of our community. If everyone contributes what they can, big or small, they will be ensuring clinicians are more prepared than ever to treat patients like Joanna Harris, and every future patient has the best possible chance of survival.”

Harris says, “If not for all the expertise of the trauma team, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. The kids are all so grateful to the doctors and nurses.  Kaelebe, my 11-year-old, said, ‘They gave me my mum back!’”

By donating today, you can help to deliver world-class simulation tomorrow, so the people who care for us all can practise vital skills and save more lives.

Visit aucklandhealthfoundation.org.nz or call (09) 307-6046 and donate to make a difference that counts.