Innovative Aviation Safety System Seeks to Curb Malpractice Litigation by Diminishing Medical Errors

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As medical malpractice continues to plague the nation, LifeWings Partners LLC, a Memphis, TN, organization of pilots, physicians, and astronauts, find practical solutions.

For years the medical community and lawmakers have struggled to find a solution for malpractice litigation. In 2000 and 2004, President Bush addressed malpractice reform as a campaign issue, but as the crisis grows a legislative solution seems improbable. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates the total cost of errors in U.S. hospitals to be approximately $17 billion each year. As lawmakers put this issue on the backburner, medical errors and malpractice litigation continues, as evidenced in a recent report by The Minnesota Department of Health.

In this report 106 medical errors were documented occurring between the dates of October 7, 2004 and October 6, 2005 in Minnesota’s hospitals and surgery centers alone. The mishaps resulted in the deaths of 12 patients and serious disabilities in 9 others. Mistakes included surgery performed on a wrong body part, surgery performed on the wrong patient, and leaving foreign objects in a patient after surgery. Minnesota’s public report concluded that lack of communication skills and systematic flaws were at the heart of many errors.

While some continue to push for a cap on medical malpractice, an innovative program takes a different approach. Rather than limit the financial payout for mistakes and errors the program reduces the number of patient-harming errors that lead to malpractice claims. The patient safety program, developed by LifeWings Partners LLC, uses the widespread aviation-based system known as Crew Resource Management (CRM) to train medical teams. CRM dramatically reduced commercial aviation accidents and is a practical solution to the medical malpractice crisis. Just as it did for aviation, CRM cures defects in communication and flaws in procedures. In one hospital where implemented, the program produced a surgical error rate 10 times better than the national average for such mistakes.

Fewer medical mistakes lead to fewer claims and lower healthcare costs.

Drew Gaffney, MD, the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and LifeWings colleague notes that quality and patient safety should be the primary focus of healthcare business plans. Furthermore Dr. Gaffney adds, “The idea that malpractice expense can be managed is something that most medical personnel don’t realize.” VUMC, which implemented the LifeWings program, found that the observed to expected mortality decreased such that 200 people a year walked out of the facility rather than going to the morgue.

VUMC was also ranked number one out of nearly 900 hospitals that submitted information for the 2005 LeapFrog Hospital Quality and Safety Survey. The LeapFrog Group is an association composed primarily of Fortune 500 companies who buy health care. LeapFrog represents over 34 million Americans who strive to build a more safe, cost-effective healthcare network. Dr. Gaffney contributes much of VUMC’s success to the LifeWings program, adding that the prevention of one major malpractice case a year pays for the cost of LifeWings tenfold.

What is the result of LifeWings? Fewer errors, fewer lawsuits, and an overall safer healthcare system for everyone. While some wait in hopes of a legislative resolution to medical malpractice, LifeWings presents a realistic answer today.

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 than 10 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



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