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Answers to enhanced medical safety reside in the aviation industry

When many medical safety advocates dream about changes that can be brought to their industry that would optimally improve patient safety, reduce medical malpractice outcomes and put a damper on medication errors and wrong-site surgery, they think about ... airplanes.

Specifically, they think about the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent and politically insulated safety organization that has essentially rendered airline safety the envy of other industries throughout the world. Medical reformers almost unanimously voice their approval of widespread emulation of NTSB processes and practices, which have worked to reduce the risks of dying in an airplane crash to about a one-in-10-million chance.

As has been widely noted, medical facilities have already profited from borrowing many ideas that were born in the aerospace industry. Those include simulation training, adverse incident-reporting systems and safety checklists.

Critics and reformers alike, though, say that such implementation, while salutary, does not go nearly far enough to curb what should be unnecessary medical harm being visited upon patients across the country.

One problem is that critically important information -- e.g., what the source was for an infection problem at one hospital; why a serious medication error occurred at another facility -- is not systematically and in a high-profile manner disseminated to hospital administrators and doctors in all facilities across the country and openly discussed, debated and learned from.

That is the way it is done in the aviation industry, where improvements and flaws are rapidly conveyed and applied across the board.

"The NTSB has pioneered wonderful best practices that are public domain, and a similar idea could be implemented to keep doctors from having accidents," says one retired radiation oncologist whose father was an Apollo rocket scientist.

"We've just started to learn what we can learn from aviation," he adds.

Source: American Medical News, "Celebrities make pitch for patient safety panel," Kevin B. O'Reilly, May 14, 2012

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