3 healthcare safety lessons from the nuclear power industry

Lessons for healthcare leaders turn up in numerous unexpected corners and industries, and on the all-important issue of patient safety, they can add one more: the nuclear power sector, Leapfrog Group CEO Leah Binder writes in Forbes.

Healthcare settings are, statistically, extremely unsafe for both patients and healthcare workers, writes Binder. The nuclear power industry, meanwhile, is far safer, because it can't afford not to be given the catastrophic consequences of negligence, she says. After 1986's Chernobyl disaster, nuclear reactor leaders formed the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to standardize industry-wide safety protocols.

While the two industries operate in different ways, she says there are five reasons why healthcare can easily apply protocols from the nuclear power industry. Here are three:

The industry holds leaders accountable: Leaders within the nuclear sector are held accountable at every level, analyzing what went wrong and on whose watch whenever there is a mistake or error. "At the end of the day, the station director is responsible for everything," Riccardo Chiarelli, senior program manager at WANO, told Binder.

The industry emphasizes outcomes: The WANO review process focuses on clear-cut performance objectives rather than checking off boxes during the process, according to the article. Meanwhile, the regulatory infrastructure within healthcare often forces hospitals to spend their time dotting I's and crossing T's rather than improving patient outcomes, which puts them at increased risk for burnout, Binder writes.

Industry leaders listen to frontline workers: The nuclear industry creates an environment where individual workers don't fear the consequences of speaking up about problems. And, unlike healthcare, where alarm fatigue remains a major problem, nuclear workers are expected to report every false alarm, according to the article.  

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