A safety record to be proud of

In terms of safety, would you rather spend a night in the hospital or on the redeye flight from Los Angeles to New York?

Choose the flight.

While hospitals continue to struggle with quality and safety issues, an industry-wide example of improvement is on display:

For the first time since the dawn of the jet age, two consecutive years have passed without a single airline passenger death in a U.S. carrier crash.

No passengers died in accidents in 2007 and 2008, a period in which commercial airliners carried 1.5 billion passengers on scheduled airline flights, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal and industry data. (USA Today)

It’s obvious that the vast majority of airlines are awful-awful-awful when it comes to customer service (everyone has a story…; I’m a staunch advocate of not using the airline industry as an example of how to treat people, ever ever!).  But they do get safety (much of the awful customer service stems from focusing on safety, btw).  Surely mistakes are still made, but they’re also corrected before harm is caused.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement tells us that nearly 100,000 patients die annually because of preventable medical errors.  Or as some have analogized it, the equivalent of killing everyone aboard one jumbo jet every day. 

The good news from the domestic airlines comes as a result of a concentrated safety effort according to Arnold Barnett from MIT (CNN), “The manufacturers of the air frame are making better equipment. The power plant people, the engine manufacturers are doing the same. The crews are better trained. It’s just an all-around effort.”

Improvement efforts and transparency initiatives have increased hospitals’ attention to these matters.  The IHI’s latest concentration is the Improvement Map—its most encompassing safety and quality effort to date.  A grand continuation of its improvement agenda.

We’ve still a long way to go.  The checklists now being instituted in operating rooms have been borrowed from the cockpit and as the most recent statistics show, there’s room to borrow even more.