What's Wrong Here? Patient Safety Survey Reveals That Flying Is Safer Than Going To The Hospital. LifeWings Offers A Proven Solution For Improving Healthcare Quality

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Another study confirms the distressing difference between healthcare and aviation: getting sick in America can be dangerous, boarding a commercial airliner is quite safe. But one group of visionaries has part of the solution and is making healthcare demonstrably safer in institutions across the country by teaching doctors and nurses the very skills pilots use everyday to make air travel safe.

A recent survey of medical errors published in Health Affairs reveals that 34% of U.S. patients with critical health problems experience medical mistakes. Furthermore, this error rate was the highest among the six developed nations studied (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and U.K.). For 20% of the patients, communication between patients and hospital staff was a factor when errors occurred.

Alternatively, the United States historically has one of the safest records in the world for commercial flying. Today, the death risk from flying is in the ballpark of 1 in 8 million. The FAA describes this in simpler terms, “If a passenger facing a death risk of one in eight million chose one flight at random each day, she would, on average, go for 21,000 years before perishing in a fatal crash.” (Hinson, 1996)

Clearly, a need for safer patient care exists in medical facilities large and small. LifeWings Partners LLC, a group of former fighter pilots, astronauts, and active physicians has contracted with many health care providers across the United States to apply proven aviation-based crew resource management training to healthcare providers. The LifeWings training adapts and implements in healthcare the same teamwork training and safety tools used by aviators to make aviation so safe. The medical community is learning that applying these principles to healthcare delivery can provide measurable improvements in care for their patients.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s (VUMC) partnership with LifeWings is one such success story. In 2003, VUMC committed to undertaking a structured, long-term effort to improve patient safety and contracted with LifeWings Partners LLC to reach their goal. After implementing the LifeWings training, Vanderbilt successfully eliminated wrong surgeries, improved expected-to-observed mortality ratios, opened fewer malpractice case files, and ranked highest among all hospitals in the Leapfrog Hospital Quality and Safety Survey for patient safety indicators. Steve Harden, President of LifeWings Partners LLC, comments, “We already know how to improve our #6 ranking in the survey of national error rates… commercial aviation has shown us the way. As evidenced by the results at Vanderbilt and other hospitals that implemented an aviation-based patient safety system, U.S. healthcare can dramatically improve its safety ranking by learning from aviation and other high reliability organizations.”

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor and commercial airline pilot. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based teamwork training and safety tools to help healthcare facilities save patient lives and reduce costs. The firm has helped more than 40 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in many LifeWings initiatives including one hospital that improved its surgical error rate to better than10 times the national average. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for healthcare executives and leaders.


Richard Clark, Vice President, LifeWings Partners LLC


9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive

Memphis, TN 38125


Note: Aviation statistics taken from the following website: http://www.faa.gov/library/reports/aviation/media/analysis.pdf

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