Development of regional extracorporeal life support system: The importance of innovative simulation training

Published:April 18, 2018DOI:



      Despite advances in mechanical ventilation, severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is associated with high morbidity and mortality rates ranging from 30% to 60%. Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) can be used as a “bridge to recovery”. ECMO is a complex network that provides oxygenation and ventilation and allows the lungs to rest and recover from respiratory failure, while minimizing iatrogenic ventilator-induced lung injury. In the critical care settings, ECMO is shown to improve survival rates and outcomes in patients with severe ARDS. The primary objective was to present an innovative approach for using high-fidelity medical simulation before setting ECMO program for reversible respiratory failure (RRF) in Poland's first unique regional program “ECMO for Greater Poland”, covering a total population of 3.5 million inhabitants in the Greater Poland region (Wielkopolska).

      Aim and methods

      Because this organizational model is complex and expensive, we use advanced high-fidelity medical simulation to prepare for the real-life implementation. The algorithm was proposed for respiratory treatment by veno-venous (VV) Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). The scenario includes all critical stages: hospital identification (Regional Department of Intensive Care) - inclusion and exclusion criteria matching using an authorship protocol; ECMO team transport; therapy confirmation; veno-venous cannulation of mannequin's artificial vessels and implementation of perfusion therapy and transport with ECMO to another hospital in a provincial city (Clinical Department of Intensive Care), where the VV ECMO therapy was performed in the next 48 h, as training platform.


      The total time, by definition, means the time from the first contact with the mannequin to the cannulation of artificial vessels and starting VV perfusion on ECMO, did not exceed 3 h – including 75 min of transport (the total time of simulation with first call from provincial hospital to admission to the Clinical Intensive Care department was 5 h). The next 48 h for perfusion simulation “in situ” generated a specific learning platform for intensive care personnel. Shortly after this simulation, we performed, the first in the region: ECMO used for RRF treatment. The transport was successful and exceeded 120 km. During first year of Program duration we performed 6 successful ECMO transports (5 adult and 1 paediatric) with 60% of adult patient survival of ECMO therapies. Three patients in good condition were discharged to home. Two years old patient was successfully disconnected from ECMO and in stabile condition is treated in Paediatric Department.


      We discovered the important role of medical simulation, not only as an examination for testing the medical professional's skills, but also as a mechanism for creating non-existent procedures. During debriefing, it was found that the previous simulation-based training allowed to build a successful procedural chain, to eliminate errors at the stage of identification, notification, transportation and providing ECMO perfusion therapy.


      RRF (reversible respiratory failure), ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation)


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