America’s Health Care System Leading Cause of Death and Injury

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Motivated medical center learns how to improve patient safety from former fighter pilots.

A recent analysis by esteemed doctors, “The American Medical System is the Leading Cause of Death and Injury in the U.S.,” revealed that between preventable surgical procedures and unnecessary hospitalizations, the total number of deaths in the United States induced by physicians, surgeons, medical treatment or diagnostic procedures reached nearly 800,000 annually—claiming more lives than heart disease (699,697) and cancer (553,251). Nebraska Medical Center (NMC), which already has a reputation for its remarkable patient care and quality, is taking active steps to venture outside the mainstream of traditional health care by implementing an aviation model that works.

NMC began work with LifeWings® Partners LLC (LWP) in August 2005 to implement the program in their Orthopedic and Cardiac Surgery Centers in order to achieve even higher safety standards. Health care organizations that are collaborating with LWP are getting measurable results. One hospital, after implementing the LWP project, achieved an error rate of 0.15 per 10,000 procedures; a rate over 10 times better than the national average.

The aviation design, which is known as Crew Resource Management (CRM), was first introduced to flight crews and mechanics in the early 1980’s to improve decision-making and minimize the errors of high-performance team members. Recognizing the need for CRM-based training in the health care industry, former military and commercial airline pilots adapted the program into LifeWings® Partners LLC to fit the needs of the health care community.

According to a recent study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 92% of physicians, 89% of nurses and 82% of administers say they have witnessed a serious medical error. Pointing fingers when adverse events occur remains the dominant tradition when it comes to the health care workforce. Blaming individuals is emotionally more satisfying than targeting the organization as a whole. Conversely, the LWP program focuses on building team moral and improving overall communication skills.

NMC is changing the way training should be approached in hospitals. “Training alone doesn’t change behaviors,” explains Richard Clark, an active commercial airline pilot and Vice President of LWP. “First, the culture has to change, and to really be able to change the culture, the client has to take ownership of the program. NMC is doing just that.”

NMC will kick-off their newest contract with LWP this spring. Steve Smith, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Nebraska Medical Center is excited about the project, “We anticipate it will make a large impact on our journey to improve patient safety. Once we complete the training for the whole surgery department, the results will become quite apparent. Momentum is also gaining in discussions to teach this program to all of our house officers and students - medical, nursing, pharmacy, etc.”

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 health care facilities save patient lives and reduce costs. The firm has helped nearly 50 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in all LifeWings initiatives, including one hospital that experienced a 43% improvement in their Observed to Expected mortality figures. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for health care executives and leaders.


Richard Clark, Vice President, LifeWings Partners LLC


9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive

Memphis, TN 38125


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