Background: Over the past several decades, naturally occurring and man-made mass casualty incidents (MCIs) have increased in frequency and number worldwide. To test the impact of such events on medical resources, simulations can provide a safe, controlled setting while replicating the chaotic environment typical of an actual disaster. A standardized method to collect and analyze data from mass casualty exercises is needed to assess preparedness and performance of the health care staff involved.
Objective: In this study, we aimed to assess the feasibility of using wearable proximity sensors to measure proximity events during an MCI simulation. In the first instance, our objective was to demonstrate how proximity sensors can collect spatial and temporal information about the interactions between medical staff and patients during an MCI exercise in a quasi-autonomous way. In addition, we assessed how the deployment of this technology could help improve future simulations by analyzing the flow of patients in the hospital.
Methods: Data were obtained and collected through the deployment of wearable proximity sensors during an MCI functional exercise. The scenario included 2 areas: the accident site and the Advanced Medical Post, and the exercise lasted 3 hours. A total of 238 participants were involved in the exercise and classified in categories according to their role: 14 medical doctors, 16 nurses, 134 victims, 47 Emergency Medical Services staff members, and 27 health care assistants and other hospital support staff. Each victim was assigned a score related to the severity of his/her injury. Each participant wore a proximity sensor, and in addition, 30 fixed devices were placed in the field hospital.
Results: The contact networks show a heterogeneous distribution of the cumulative time spent in proximity by the participants. We obtained contact matrices based on the cumulative time spent in proximity between the victims and rescuers. Our results showed that the time spent in proximity by the health care teams with the victims is related to the severity of the patient’s injury. The analysis of patients’ flow showed that the presence of patients in the rooms of the hospital is consistent with the triage code and diagnosis, and no obvious bottlenecks were found.
Conclusions: Our study shows the feasibility of the use of wearable sensors for tracking close contacts among individuals during an MCI simulation. It represents, to our knowledge, the first example of unsupervised data collection—ie, without the need for the involvement of observers, which could compromise the realism of the exercise—of face-to-face contacts during an MCI exercise. Moreover, by permitting detailed data collection about the simulation, such as data related to the flow of patients in the hospital, such deployment provides highly relevant input for the improvement of MCI resource allocation and management.