SIMDiscovery: a simulation-based preparation program for adolescents undergoing spinal fusion surgery

Purpose: Spinal fusion surgery is associated with high levels of stress and anxiety for patients and their caregivers. Medical simulation has demonstrated efficacy in improving preparedness, knowledge, and overall experience prior to other medical procedures. The current study examines the utility of a multi-faceted preparation program (SIMDiscovery) using simulation techniques to reduce anxiety and increase preparedness among patients undergoing spinal fusion surgery and their caregivers.

Methods: Participants attended SIMDiscovery where they received hands-on preparation about what to expect before, during, and after their surgery. Anxiety, preparedness, and knowledge about the procedure were assessed pre- and post-participation using self-report measures. Participants also completed a questionnaire at their first post-operative medical appointment. Differences from pre to post and between patients and caregivers were calculated with paired and independent sample t-tests.

Results: Participants included 22 patients and 29 caregivers. Post-SIMDiscovery, both groups demonstrated increased knowledge for the surgical process and lower state anxiety. Patients reported increased feelings of preparedness in all areas while caregivers reported increased feelings of preparedness in most areas. Families continued to report positive impact of the program 30 days after surgery; however, they also identified areas where they desired increased preparation.

Conclusions: SIMDiscovery increased patients’ and caregivers’ knowledge regarding spinal fusion surgery and helped them feel less anxious and more prepared regarding most aspects of the surgical process. These changes were generally maintained throughout the post-operative period. Participants identified areas for increased preparation, highlighting the importance of continuing to adapt programs based on patient and family feedback.

Level of evidence: Level III.

Keywords: Pediatric; Posterior spinal fusion; Preparation; Scoliosis; Simulation-based.