I am writing this post 37,000 feet over Nebraska, returning home from a conference in California on Sunday.
Before you comment about the jet-setting life of a hospital CEO, let me point out that I left two days ago, sat in meetings for ten hours each day, and I cannot watch or listen to the Super Bowl in this plane.
But the time made me reflect on something my friend Dr. Bob Wachter said in the meeting. Bob has written a great deal about health care safety, both in a book as well as on his blog, Wachter’s World.
At this weekend’s meeting, he briefly talked about the comparative safety of the U.S. airlines industry versus health care.
This has been the topic of many papers, books and conferences. It is not a new idea, but it is a bit more immediate when you are sitting in the exit row of a 757.
Somewhat tongue in cheek, Bob asked the attendees how many passengers died as a result of pilot error on U.S. commercial flights in 2010. The answer: Zero.
He then asked how many passengers were seriously injured as a result of pilot error this last year. The answer: Probably a few due to hard landings, but not many.
Then, he asked how many of us knew our pilot’s name, where she went to school, how the pilot was rated on a website, or if we knew the pilot’s last passenger satisfaction survey results.
Now health care is not aviation, but there must be some things to be learned from these observations.
- How do we get the most out of health care to be as safe as air travel?
- How do we get to the point where doctors provide as uniformly reliable and predictable outcomes as pilots?
- What can we learn from this industry as whole?
Bob ended by saying that the pilot who successfully brought a crippled plane down on the Hudson River without casualties needed to be recertified for maintenance of his flight status eight months after the heroic day.
He did this in a simulator, just like all other pilots.
Food for thought, now over Iowa.