Aviation industry techniques cut hospital death rates

First, the healthcare industry was looking to the automobile industry for tips to improve efficiency (Toyota and Formula One come to mind). Now, a new study published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that operating room staff members who follow safety techniques from the airline industry can improve death rates. (All we need now is a study touting the merits of the railroad industry to pay homage to one of the greatest comedies of all time. But I digress.) 

Deaths at 74 Veterans Health Administration hospitals that followed the "Medical Team Training" program--which was modeled after error-reduction plans used in the aviation industry and NASA--fell 18 percent over a two year period. The study looked at the data of 182,000 patients who had operations at 108 Veterans Health Administration hospitals overall, from 2006 to 2008. 

Death rates at the 34 hospitals that had yet to implement the training program fell by only 7 percent. The program involved, among other things, holding "briefings and debriefings in the operating room" prior to and following all surgeries, as well as using checklists. 

Annual surgical death rates for participating hospitals declined by roughly 50 percent more than at non-participating facilities. 

"The ultimate goal is to have good teamwork and communication to reduce adverse events," study co-author Dr. James Bagian, chief patient safety and systems innovation officer for the University of Michigan Health System and an ex-astronaut, told HealthDay News. "This study shows we had some success. The longer the facility did the program, the greater the improvement in mortality." 

To learn more about the program and the study's results:
- here's the JAMA abstract
- read this HealthDay News article via Businessweek
- check out this MedPage Today piece
- here's an editorial on reducing surgical mortality rates, also in JAMA