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Clinical placements are a critical component of the training for health professionals such as occupational therapists. However, with growing student enrolments in professional education courses and workload pressures on practitioners, it is increasingly difficult to find sufficient, suitable placements that satisfy program accreditation requirements. The professional accrediting body for occupational therapy in Australia allows up to 200 of the mandatory 1000 clinical placement hours to be completed via simulation activities, but evidence of effectiveness and efficiency for student learning outcomes is lacking. Increasingly placement providers charge a fee to host students, leading educators to consider whether providing an internal program might be a feasible alternative for a portion of placement hours. Economic analysis of the incremental costs and benefits of providing a traditional versus simulated placement is required to inform decision-making.
This study is a pragmatic, non-inferiority, single-blind, multicentre, two-group randomised controlled trial (RCT) with an embedded economic analysis. The RCT will compare a block of 40 hours of simulated placement (intervention) with a 40-hour block of traditional placement (comparator), with a focus on student learning outcomes and delivery costs. Six universities will instigate the educational intervention within their respective occupational therapy courses, randomly assigning their cohort of students (1:1 allocation) to the simulated or traditional clinical placements. The primary outcome is achievement of professional behaviours (e.g. communication, clinical reasoning) as assessed by a post-placement written examination. Secondary outcomes include proportions passing the placement assessed using the Student Practice Evaluation Form-Revised, changes in student confidence pre-/post-placement, student and educator evaluation of the placement experience and cost-effectiveness of simulated versus traditional clinical placements. Comprehensive cost data will be collected for both the simulated and traditional placement programs at each site for economic evaluation.
Use of simulation in health-related fields like occupational therapy is common, but these activities usually relate to brief opportunities for isolated skill development. The simulated clinical placement evaluated in this trial is less common because it encapsulates a 5-day block of integrated activities, designed and delivered in a manner intended to emulate best-practice placement experiences. The planned study is rare due to inclusion of an economic analysis that aims to provide valuable information about the relationship between costs and outcomes across participating sites.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12616001339448. Registered 26 September 2016.