One Death Per Day Due To Medication Errors: Hospitals Seek Improvement By Learning From The Best In Aviation

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Medication errors continue to be problematic for hospitals large and small. Lessons learned from aviation significantly improve the care of diabetes and cancer patients.

The FDA states that there is at least one death per day and 1.3 million people injured each year due to medication errors.

According to a new study published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, children with leukemia who are treated as outpatients have around a one and five chance of being a victim of a medication error.

Similar to children with leukemia, diabetes patients are also increasingly susceptible of suffering from medical errors.

Poor communication, job stress, lack of training, and poor understanding of the directions for use are all common causes, or contributors to an actual or potential error, says the FDA. The need for providing better patient care is crucial to combat this ever-growing crisis in healthcare.

One innovative approach, known as Crew Resource Management (CRM), has been vital to the improvement of patient safety and care in many leading hospitals. Originally developed to improve safety for commercial airlines, CRM is now making its way to a wide range of healthcare facilities.

“Attempting to ‘just try harder’ isn’t enough anymore,” says Steve Harden, president and co-founder of LifeWings Partners LLC, the experts of aviation-based CRM training. “We equip medical staff with effective communication skills and then implement standardized safety tools to ensure the patient receives proper medication and care.” The LifeWings program develops protocols that require nurses and doctors to check and re-check, guaranteeing the immediate correction of any potential errors.

The Vine Hill Community Clinic (VHCC), located in Nashville, TN, recognized the urgent need to improve care to their diabetes patients, and hired LifeWings to provide CRM training to their facility. The LifeWings’ intervention was a success. The training and safety tools, customized by LifeWings, enabled VHCC’s care staff to work as a team, communicate their actions, and recognize any potential error using standardized checklists.

Cathy Taylor, Assistant Professor & Director of the Disease Management Program at VHCC said, “We standardized the process whereby patients with diabetes receive all examinations and laboratory tests recommended by the American Diabetes Association. This provides complete and up to date information for providers, and enables them to work with patients to make the best

decisions about medications and other therapies.”

In addition, a formal study was conducted after the training and safety tools implementation at VHCC. Over six hundred type 2 diabetes patients were followed over a thirteen-month period. The study concluded that the CRM-based project improved diabetes care processes and overall patient outcomes. The same report revealed that CRM has the potential to produce a long-term cultural change in the organization.

Poor adherence to leukemia and diabetes care protocols carries an increased risk for serious, sometimes life-threatening complications, and could be prevented with good care and behavioral changes.

The Federal Aviation Administration now requires every member of a flight crew on board an aircraft to be trained on CRM safety principles. They must know all of their roles and responsibilities, protocols, and obligation to speak up if they notice a problem. The healthcare community is quickly learning that by adopting many of these same safety techniques, overall patient care can be improved.

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor, commercial airline pilot, and two physicians who are former NASA astronauts. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based teamwork training and safety tools to help healthcare facilities save patients’ lives and reduce costs. LifeWings has helped over 45 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in all LifeWings’ initiatives, including one hospital’s “wrong surgery” rate went from 1 in 10,000 to 15,000 cases to 1 in 100,000. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for healthcare executive teams.


Steve Harden, President

LifeWings Partners LLC


9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive

Memphis, TN 38125

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