If Only Healthcare Could Learn How to ‘Fly’

Last year, the British Medical Journal shook the healthcare industry after it published the result of a study that says medical errors is the third leading cause of death. It gave a clear picture of where we are in our journey to achieving our patient safety outcomes – still quite far from our goals. Looking into reports to get into the root cause of the problem on medical errors reveal that failures in communication tops the list of causes. Going further down this list, we see other reasons for mistakes happening as patients are under medical care. Lack or disrupted flow of information, lack of training and education in staff and policies and procedures are among the main causes.

We still have a long way to go in healthcare. Other major industries such as aviation, nuclear power plants, and manufacturing companies have all made a leap forward in their safety goals. Why is healthcare not catching up?

Let us look into what the aviation industry can teach us. The number of flights across the globe has exponentially increased since two decades ago, but the airlines have significantly made safer air travels more than ever. How did they do it? If healthcare is to make a major overhaul of its safety efforts, we must be willing to look into the aviation industry's proven ways to prevent medical errors and address patient safety issues.

Looking into the aviation industry to search for answers to reducing medical errors may not be the best move for some who argue that workflows and safety needs are so much different in healthcare than in the airlines. But the lessons that the flight industry offer is a good starting point and an excellent foundation to establish further work on improving patient safety.

The aviation sector has pioneered Crew Resource Management (CRM), a process that they use to successfully address passenger and crew safety in the entire flight experience. CRM largely involves communication and teamwork. It also trains on situational awareness and problem-solving and decision-making abilities.  Ask any clinician and they would attest that these improvements are what healthcare also needs to reduce medical errors.

Focusing on the communication and teamwork aspect of aviation CRM, the need for a unified platform of communication that will enable feedback and collaboration becomes a more pressing necessity for many healthcare workers. A call to a solution that will inherently bridge process and workflow gaps to manage the hypercomplexity of tasks in healthcare becomes louder.

So how do aviation crews communicate and use teamwork to address safety goals?

For starters, their strategy enables and elicits feedback and inquiry. Their approach levels the hierarchy, encourages transparency and is closed-loop. These are the same qualities that are lacking in the way communication happens in healthcare.

Another lesson from aviation that healthcare can adopt is on the aspect of training. In the airline industry, pilots train rigorously for many years. They undergo simulations that will test their decision-making skills. While practicing their profession, they are evaluated for their proficiency twice a year. Their training hones them to detect precursors of trouble, and then rectify everything that will compromise safety. They become experts in their core competencies and would even go as far as to change their workplace culture to get to the bottom of it all.

In healthcare, as faulty or inadequate training is deemed a cause of medical errors, the satisfactory transfer of knowledge, just like how airlines do it, becomes necessary to achieve patient safety outcomes, especially in onboarding processes and in the recruit of temporary staff.

The culture of safety in healthcare needs a major overhaul. More than ever before, we need to use the aviation’s safety strategies as a blueprint to get to the bottom of the cause of medical errors. We need to put in considerable effort in improving internal communication systems that will enable feedback, teamwork, and collaboration.

ManageUP developed its solution for medical errors from the viewpoints of oversight managers as well as from employees using the lessons from flight safety and then customizing solutions to meet challenges unique to healthcare alone. Our platform uses the power of technology and the benefits of a collaboration tool, knowledge portal, and employee engagement in a single platform to achieve overall positive patient outcomes.