Look to the skies for lessons on how to create a culture of hospital safety

Medical errors remain a major problem within the healthcare industry, ranking as the third-leading cause of death in the United States. To move the needle in a meaningful way, providers must adopt the aviation industry's mindset on mistakes, according to a MedPageToday column.

In 1977, an airline disaster spurred major reforms for the aviation industry, which threw out various time-honored protocols such as hierarchical flight crews in favor of developing a "culture of safety," writes David Nash, M.D., founding dean of Jefferson College of Population Health, Thomas Jefferson University. It is also a pressing need in the healthcare industry as well. Since then, the aviation industry has maintained high standards for safety, and it shows in its results, Nash writes.

Compare this to cases like that of Iowa-based Genesis Health System, where four wrong-site surgeries were performed over 40 days, the article says. Despite no patient deaths or long-term medical consequences, an investigation found that the system failed to follow procedures meant to make absolutely sure of a patient's identity as well as the procedure and surgical site before beginning the surgery. While Genesis disciplined the surgeons involved, it dragged its feet putting plans in place to make sure such double-checks were occurring, as well as imposing re-training requirements for all members of surgical teams, according to Nash.

Such responses illustrate the root of healthcare failing to make the progress that airlines have, Nash writes: the industry reacts to individual mistakes as they occur, rather than learning from a pattern of mistakes to develop a culture of safety.

To learn more:
- read the column