Hospital Zooms to the Top of “Most Safe” Lists with Patient Safety Training from Former Fighter Pilots

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN has been ranked very highly on two important industry surveys for hospital patient safety after implementing patient safety skills and tools taught by LifeWings Partners LLC.

In 2003 Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), an academic medical center in Nashville, TN, which includes schools of Medicine and Nursing and four hospitals, established a mission to dramatically improve patient safety. Their goal of becoming a top-ten medical school, the persistent press about the prevalence of medical errors, and the rising costs of healthcare all contributed to VUMC’s commitment to undertaking a structured, long-term effort to improve patient safety.

To facilitate these goals, they contracted with LifeWings Partners LLC, a group of former fighter pilots, astronauts and active physicians, to provide aviation-based crew resource management training. The LifeWings training taught VUMC staff members the same teamwork and communication skills used by aviators. They also provided VUMC the tools necessary to create a culture of safety in which potential medical errors are avoided.

This fall, VUMC received feedback and recognition that their patient safety improvement initiative has been extremely successful.

The hospital ranked number one out of almost 900 hospitals that submitted information for the 2005 Leapfrog Hospital Quality and Safety Survey for patient safety indicators and the creation of a culture of safety in the hospital. Leapfrog Group is a consortium of more than 170 companies and organizations that buy health care. Their goals include: improving patient safety; creating the opportunity for the healthcare community to be rewarded for quality care; and helping consumers make smarter healthcare choices. The survey was started in 2001 as a way of measuring and rewarding hospitals that implemented patient safety practices that, if implemented in non-rural hospitals, could save an estimated 65,000 lives each year and prevent as many as 900,000 serious medication errors each year.

Further confirmation that VUMC’s crew resource management training initiative is working was found in the University Healthsystem Consortium’s (UHC) list of Safest Hospitals. The University Health Consortium is an alliance of 90 academic medical centers that offers services to help academic medical institutions improve performance. Their extensive study of quality and patient safety included voluminous data from every patient from academic medical centers meeting the strict UHC criteria. This data included statistics not typically available to the public concerning things like mortality rates and patient equity. VUMC was ranked in the top fifth for patient outcomes of all hospitals represented in this exhaustive and highly-respected study.

Harry R. Jacobson, MD, the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Vanderbilt University stated that “Vanderbilt University Medical Center is absolutely committed to achieving the highest level of quality and patient safety and crew resource management plays a crucial role in achieving that goal. Over the past three years we have trained almost 2,500 physicians, employees, and nurses as a part of building a culture of safety.”

To continue the success of this training, VUMC is establishing an alliance with LifeWings Partners LLC that will enable them to bring these improvements in patient safety and quality to more departments at the medical center, and to hospitals nationwide.

Examples of this successful training effort are used extensively in a new book authored by LifeWings President, Steve Harden and members of the VUMC team, Dr. Drew Gaffney and Dr. Rhea Seddon, both practicing physicians and former astronauts. The book titled “Crew Resource Management Training: The Flight Plan for Lasting Change in Patient Safety”, provides a step-by-step guide for hospitals to use to implement these aviation-based strategies. The book is available at

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded in 1999 by a former U.S. Navy Topgun Pilot and commercial airline pilot. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based training to help healthcare facilities improve patient safety and reduce costs. The firm has helped more than 40 facilities nationwide improve patient safety. Measurable results are documented for LifeWings patient safety training initiatives including one hospital that reduced its surgery error rate from one every 60 days to one every 619 days, 10 times better than the national average. The firm also conducts Leadership Institutes to teach physicians from different facilities better communication and leadership skills.


Steve Harden, President, LifeWings Partners LLC



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